by Calli Stromner
Morinville – The Town’s 2014 Operating and Capital Budget is one step closer to being approved after Council unanimously gave First Reading to it Feb. 11. Taxes for both residential and non-residential properties are slated to increase by 4 per cent over 2013 rates, even with a modest 2 per cent proposed increase in overall assessment values. Under the proposed 4 per cent increase, the average homeowner can expect to pay an additional $75 based on an average home valued at $300,000.
Under the current proposal, the Town is expecting to bring in $11.8 million dollars of revenue through property taxes, user fees, rentals, and other means. Despite the 4 per cent increase, the proposed budget anticipates expenditures in excess of $12.1 million dollars, including $7.79 million in staff salaries and contracted services and another $1 million for the policing contract with the RCMP. With a budgeted operating deficit of $386,248 in 2014 and an additional $846,271 in debenture payments, the Town is proposing to pull over $1.2 million from the operating reserves to cover the shortfall, leaving just under $45,000 in the savings account.
“It’s been a lot of work and time putting this together with Council,” said Chief Administrative Officer Debbie Oyarzun. “This budget reflects the town’s sustainability plan and strategic mission. Administration is now turning it over to Council to have Council take full ownership of it.”
Councillor Stephen Dafoe moved First Reading of the budget, but Council did not pose questions of Administration or begin debate of the budget during the meeting. “The idea is not to debate the budget tonight,” advised Chief Financial Officer Andy Isbister, adding that debate helps to develop an individual’s opinion and doing so prior to public input session would show prejudice.
Council and Administration will now prepare for three upcoming public input sessions: two public Open Houses scheduled for Feb. 18 and 19 at the Morinville Community Cultural Centre, from 6-8 p.m.; and a Public Forum scheduled during the regular Council Meeting on Feb 25.
“We are ready and excited to listen. That can mean coffee shop conversations; that can mean grocery store conversations. We are excited to engage the public in any way the public wishes to engage us,” said Mayor Lisa Holmes, adding that much of the dialogue will likely take place on social media.
Residents who cannot attend the three nights of public input sessions can still submit feedback by calling 780-939-4361 or sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.