by Colin Smith
Morinville Town employees and Councillors will go without a 2% cost of living increase next year if the 2021 budget is finalized as amended at Second Reading.
Second Reading of the 2021 Operating Budget and 2021-2022 was passed by Council at its regular meeting Tuesday, an online meeting marred by technical glitches.
Dropping the cost of living increase was one of three measures to reduce budget expenditure brought forward by the Administration in response to a motion passed by Council at its October 27 meeting.
The aim of the motion, proposed by Councillor Stephen Dafoe, was to find items whose removal from the draft Operating Budget could result in a 0% property tax increase rather than the proposed 1.5%.
As well as the cost of living (COLA) increase, elimination of which would take $161,000 out of the Budget, the items identified for cutting were a proposed resident satisfaction survey, $25,000, amended by Dafoe, and a project to update Morinville’s engineering standards, $75,000, amended by Councillor Scott Richardson, for a total expenditure reduction of $261,000.
All three suggested cuts were accepted by Council, which unanimously supported these amendments to the draft Budget.
“This is a tough one to put on the table,” Dafoe said of the cost of living cut. “I’m cognizant that not getting that 2% COLA will have an effect. It affects Council as well.
“But I think it is what we have to do this year to get this Budget lower. I can’t stress enough that everyone is feeling the pinch.”
Raising property taxes by 1.5 per cent would bring in $152,790 in revenue, $130,397 from residential property and $22,394 from non-residential property, so the cuts result in an overage of about $108,000.
On an amendment motion by Councillor Nicole Boutestein, Council also decided to remove $50,000 budgeted for the Morinville Storefront Improvement Program. The vote was split, with Deputy Mayor Sarah Hall and Councillors Dafoe, Boutestein and Rebecca Balanko in favour, while Mayor Barry Turner and Councillors Lawrence Giffin and Scott Richardson were opposed.
The Administration also proposed Budget expenditure increases of $88,000.
Accepted by Council, $65,000 is to go toward a modular building or trailer to provide interim office space for the RCMP and Town of Morinville Enforcement Services staff while a new Morinville Detachment structure is completed.
The other $23,000 would go toward a recently announced increase in the annual funding contribution for Edmonton Global, the regional economic development body, from $26,000 to $49,000. Debate on that increase was deferred.
Despite the budget cuts, Turner said more discussion is needed on the property tax question. He is concerned about the continued deficit in Morinville’s tax-supported Budget, the Consolidated Budget surplus being derived from utilities revenues – a situation considered financially unsound.
“We have reduced expenditures significantly,” said Turner. “But it may not necessarily mean that a 0% increase will result.”
The initial Consolidated Operating Budget for 2021 showed planned expenditures totalling about $22.8 million, an increase of 2.5 per cent over the 2020 budget. It anticipated revenues of some $22.9 million, with a budgetary surplus of $167,000 for 2021.
The Budget includes operating initiatives and projects including tree planting and replacement, pedestrian crossing review, occupational health and safety software, Council Chambers technology update, Protective Services electronic ticketing, utility rate review – model update, community safety plan report and bi-annual compensation review. Also included are financial support for the Morinville Community Library and Morinville Historical Society.
Along with the Operating Budget, Council passed Second Reading of the 2021-2046 Capital Plan, which calls for general infrastructure investments of $5.1 million in 2021, with a total of $345,000 worth of utility infrastructure investments planned. No amendments were made to the Capital Plan.
Utility rates also received second reading. Costs for water, sanitary sewers and storm water management, are going up, while garbage collection and recycling will cost slightly less.
The average household will see utility costs rise $4.87 per month to $137.26 next year with proposed 2021 rates. The annual increase is $58.42, making for a total utility cost of $1,647.13.
Dafoe moved to reverse the planned increase for stormwater management costs. That motion passed 4-3.
He noted that the other rising costs result directly from increased charges by the providers, over which the Town has no control.
Council will have further discussions, at its regular meeting on November 27, while third reading and passage of the Budget is scheduled for December 8.
While planned Budget information events set for earlier this month were cancelled, Morinville residents will get a chance to find out more at online events, one for business on November 26 from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., another for the general community, with dates on December 1 from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Information is also available at the Town website morinville.ca, and comments or questions can be emailed to email@example.com.