Citizen budget figures reviewed by council

closed session

by Tristan Turner

Council has the opinion of 193 Morinville residents to keep in mind before they make their final revisions to Morinville’s 2018 budget.

These opinions come after receiving the results of their online citizen budget survey completed from Jan. 28 through Feb. 10, which were reported to council by Chief Financial Officer Shawna Jason at council’s Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting on Feb. 20.

Jason was happy with the response to this year’s survey compared to last year, which only saw 36 completed surveys, and credited both work from Communications Coordinator Felicity Bergman on promoting the survey, as well as a prize draw offered to participants.

While completed surveys increased five-fold, the survey still saw 339 residents visit the survey site, but fail to complete the survey, something that council seemed to unanimously agree was largely due to the survey being too long to complete for the average resident, at approximately 10 minutes.

This review of resident opinion comes ahead of third reading on a budget that, at this time, would increase resident taxes by 4.9%, with major tax increases coming from increases to the library’s budget, the acquisition of a new Peace Officer vehicle and other town projects and inflationary increases.

Respondents eager to cut bylaw, want more spent on roads and parks.

Survey respondents were asked a handful of questions on their budget preferences, including what council’s top three priorities over the next 12 months should include. The highest three categories chosen in the survey were economic development (126 responses), social improvement (101 responses) and infrastructure (99 responses). Environmental concerns were the least popular category with 30 respondents. Residents were also asked what council’s priorities should be over the next four months, with relatively similar responses.

Respondents are split on the value they receive from their tax dollars, with 20 saying they receive very good value, 73 seeing fairly good value, 51 fairly poor value and 48 say they receive very poor value for their tax dollar.

When it comes to services people wanted council to expand or enhance, respondents indicated road/sidewalk maintenance (82 respondents), parks maintenance (66 respondents) and policing (51 respondents) were their three priorities.

As for services to cut, bylaw enforcement is first (59 respondents), the library second (46 respondents) with park maintenance a distance third (15 respondents).

When respondents were asked to increase or decrease the funding offered to each program individually, across each category residents would be most likely to suggest it should remain the same. Eighty-two would keep library funding the same, while 54 would increase funding and 57 would decrease it. Similar numbers appear for the festival society, with 10 more that would keep it the same and a corresponding decrease in the number that would increase funding. The historical society saw 102 who would maintain it at current levels, with very few looking for an increase, with 13 respondents, and 78 who would slash funding to the organization responsible for Morinville’s Museum.

Protective services and public works both saw similar numbers with 126 and 127 respectively who would maintain funding, and the clear majority of the remainder hoping for increases. Planning and economic development saw a similar number of those who would maintain funding, 125 respondents, but had most of the remaining respondents looking to decrease funding.

Respondents favour recreation, trails and roads for capital projects
When it came to capital projects respondents preferred, the top three were recreation centres (116), parks and trails (90) and roads (81). This lines up with the favourite operational projects, with the recreation master plan as the favourite at 89 respondents, with a long-range financial plan close behind at 76.

The survey asked some brief demographic questions of respondents, including their age (with 25-40 being the more popular than every other category combined), and how long they have lived in Morinville, where most respondents have been in town for 6 or more years. Almost every respondent owned their property with only 4 respondents indicating they rented their home.

Council had limited comments for administration, excluding some recommendations for how to make the survey shorter next time, as well as some discussion on how to improve the response rate next year. Mayor Barry Turner brought up the possibility of the town potentially conducting a more in-depth “scientific” survey every few years, with a much larger sample size, as this survey is not representative with approximately 2 per cent of Morinville’s population taking part.

The entire citizen budget report is available for residents to access online at in council’s Feb. 20 COW agenda package.

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