by Tristan Turner
Morinville News Correspondent
Council unanimously passed First Reading of their 2017 Budget very quickly Oct. 25 following only a couple clarifying questions from Council. This is typical of First Readings, where councillors do not offer amendments or debate beyond clarifying the intent of the document. Many budget amendments are commonplace in this Council’s term and may come forward during Second and Third Reading.
The passing of First Reading comes ahead of public consultations – both online and in an open house on Nov. 2 – and later Second and Third Readings, likely with amendments.
The budget as prepared by administration shows them in the black overall, with a deficit in their tax-supported budget – which includes all departments not directly associated with utilities – of $694,023. The total consolidated budget shows revenue of $19,160,392, a near $600,000 increase over last year’s budget, and $18,296,193 in expenses, about a $750,000 increase. This shows a consolidated budget surplus of $864,199, a drop from last year’s budgeted consolidated surplus of $1,013,746.
On the tax-supported budget side, the Town will see revenues of $13,415,651 and expenditures of $14,109,674, posting a $694,023 deficit. This deficit is approaching $200,000 more than last year’s budgeted $515,238 deficit.
It’s important to note that, despite the budgeted deficit, it is extremely rare for the Town to post actual deficits, with a very conservative budgeting track record. Last year saw an over $1,000,000 positive discrepancy with a budgeted deficit of $515,238 and a forecasted surplus of $722,962, despite over a year of poor provincial economic performance. Large tax supported surpluses are the norm for the Town, with a near $5,000,000 surplus posted in 2015, almost half of that year’s total expense budget.
Major increases to the budget were largely caused by an approximately $100,000 increase in funding combined between the Library, Museum, and Festival Society, as well as a $20,00 request for the Morinville Cemetery. The library has the largest increase among them at about $50,000.
The new provincial Carbon Tax also caused an additional $17,000 budget hit, as well as a $35,000 budget to run next year’s municipal election.
The largest percentage expenses for the Town is Salaries and Benefits for Town employees at 50 per cent of operations, Contracted & General Services, including the RCMP, snow removal, consultants and building inspectors, is the next largest at 24 per cent of expenses. Materials, Goods, and Utilities are 20 per cent. Other Expenses are 5 per cent, and Bank Charges and Short Term Debt Interest sit at 1 per cent.
Residents with questions, concerns or comments for Council can read the entire draft budget online now. The document is available in the Oct. 25 Council Agenda package. There will be a public budget open house with Mayor and Council on Nov. 2 at Town Hall along 100 Ave. During this open house, residents can make proposals and ask questions, as well as hear presentations from each Town department on changes in their budgets, including increases, decreases, and efficiencies.
Department presentations run from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.; the open house runs 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., and the public presentations run from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Second Reading of the budget is scheduled for Nov. 8. If that passes, likely with amendments, it will move forward to Third Reading for further debate and possible amendment on Nov. 22. These meetings are public, as are all regular meetings of Council. It is possible that Council may decide to pass Third Reading of the budget along with Second Reading on the 8.
Citizens can also participate in the online ‘Citizen Budget’ tool available on the Town’s website which allows residents to choose what programs they feel are important, and what budgets should be increased and decreased.