Council approves third read of budget after slashing tax increase from 6% to .07%

by Tristan Turner

Council has approved the third and final reading of their 2018 budget after a nearly four-hour long meeting dealing mostly with amendments to the budget.

Council slashed and burned $370,296 from the operational budget before the night was over. Some highlights of cuts include a $171,016 cut to the library’s request for an additional $250,000, $130,000 general cut to Town departments and $50,000 for a long-range financial plan.

During Second Reading council had already chopped of $301,656, cutting Oktoberfest, administrative planning projects and a $150,000 salt shed capital project.

Library and festival society see massive reductions from second reading

The Morinville library saw the most significant cut to a single program or service that evening, with council voting 4-3 in favour of approving a motion by Deputy Mayor Dafoe to reduce the library’s requested $679,769 down to $508,753, a cut of $171,016. This funding change is an increase of $75,000 from their 2017 funding or approximately a 15 per cent increase.

Mayor Turner, Dafoe, Richardson and Hall all voted for the reduction from their requested amount, with the rest of council indicating they hoped for further reductions.

Indeed, council nearly passed a far more considerable cut of $224,000 following an initial motion by Councillor Boutestein, but that motion failed with Councillors Boutestein, Balanko and Giffin supporting the proposal.

The intended purpose for the 57 per cent proposed budget increase was to cover a wage increase for library employees to put their salaries in line with other libraries and municipal employees in the province and the capital region. The Morinville Library board reported recently in comments to the Edmonton Examiner that library managers, assistant managers and front desk staff make far less than comparable employees with the Town, and have no pension or health benefits.

Nearly all of council noted that they had difficulty deciding on their library budget amount. Many acknowledged that they understood the reason for the request, but that they could not stomach a one-year budget increase that would see the average Morinville tax bill increase by over $50 per dwelling to cover the library’s increases alone.

Deputy Mayor Dafoe commented on the library budget saying: “I do not think that we can, in this budget, accommodate the $250,000 [increase], but I think we have to make a move towards parity [in wages] because I believe philosophically that libraries provide municipal services.”

The festival society also saw a massive cut from their requested figure of $28,215 down to $18,500, keeping it the same as their 2017 funding.

The society is most notably responsible for Morinville’s annual St. Jean Baptiste Festival, the largest festival of the year in Morinville. Deputy Mayor Dafoe put the cut forward, also stipulating that the Town will now choose to allocate the budgeted dollars to support events individually, rather than continuing with their policy of providing the funding in one lump sum. Dafoe specifically earmarked that $2,500 of this funding must be applied to the annual firefighter’s challenge.

General $130,000 cut applied to all Town departments

Council started off their evening by levelling a substantial $180,000 cut across all Town departments, with administration being responsible for finding and reporting their proposed cuts to council. The motion to make this cut was put forward by Deputy Mayor Dafoe, and it passed unanimously after limited debate.

Hours after passing this motion, Mayor Turner made another motion to cut the Town’s Long Range Financial Plan from the budget at $50,000. Turner decided to have this cut come out of the $180,000 general cut, meaning that administration will have to find $130,000 in reductions instead of the previous $180,000.

Slew of smaller cuts, council approves rec centre trail capital project

The one significant increase for the budget that evening was an $80,000 increase to the capital budget to fund the first half of a new project to create trail access to the new Morinville Rec Centre, expected to be opened later this year. The first phase of this project will pave walkways to connect the town up to East Boundary Road, with a second phase paving the 700-meter stretch from East Boundary Road to the facility itself in next year’s budget along with expected road work in the area. Initially, Councillor Boutestein made the motion to fund the entire $230,000 project this year saying: “I reiterate how important it is for us to have the connectivity for pedestrians to get to the new rec facility, and if we don’t do it now, it’s not going to be done when the building is open…”

After some back and forth between council and administration, Mayor Turner suggested that the Town could split the project into two pieces after administration reported that there would be a gravel trail going to the centre until the paving of the 700-meter walkway can be completed in 2019. Director of Public Works Claude Valcourt provided this information, and also mentioned that though the budgeted amount seems quite high, he expects that there may be cost-saving opportunities by combining this paving project with this other scheduled road work.

Boutestein withdrew her original motion and replaced it with the more modest sum after hearing this from administration, and it swiftly passed unanimously.

In partial coverage for this addition, councillor Boutestein also moved a motion to axe $60,000 for a digital sign near the Husky in town Corporate Operations, with Boutestein suggesting that a sign could be rented for far cheaper in the interim if it is still needed.

There was also a few other smaller cuts made to the budget, including a reduction to this year’s Easter egg hunt being slashed after a unanimous motion from Dafoe from $4,600 down to $2,500.

Tax rate set to go up $20.66 for average resident

With the approval of Third Reading, residents will see a tax increase of approximately 1 per cent or just over $20 for the average resident based on an assessed property value of $300,000. This is due to a total operational reduction of $476,952 to the budget between both Second and Third Reading.

At future meetings council will engage in a review of how 2018’s budget process went, offering suggestions for improvement to CFO Shawna Jason to incorporate into future budgets Council will also receive reports from administration on where administration will make their $130,000 general cut in the coming months.

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