Council defers Third Reading of Budget after hiring freeze motion

by Colin Smith

Town Council is looking to cut $30,000 from its own budget as part of efforts to reduce spending in Morinville’s 2021 Operating Budget and 25-year Capital Plan.

After beginning third reading of the proposed budget Tuesday, Council unanimously passed a motion asking the Administration to find ways to reduce its budget by that amount on a one-time basis.

It’s expected that much of that will be funds allocated for professional development, including events that Councillors will be unlikely to attend as a result of the COVID-19 situation, along with mileage and per diems.

“I just think if we’re not going to use the money there’s no point in having it just sit there,” said Deputy Mayor Sarah Hall, who proposed the reduction.

If the budget passes third reading there will also be a one-time cut in the Town’s ongoing Sidewalk Rehabilitation Program spending, in the Capital Plan,

Councillors voted unanimously for a budget amendment proposed by Councillor Scott Richardson that would see sidewalk repair spending drop from the annual $250,000 to $200,000 for 2021.

Hiring of new permanent Town of Morinville employees will be frozen until next June if a budget amendment from Councillor Rebecca Balanko is accepted.

The budget currently includes funding for three positions, a deputy fire chief, human resources advisor and a client services representative at the Morinville Leisure Centre. The hiring freeze would not include the deputy fire chief position.

Balanko said her concern stemmed from learning at a budget retreat that in the ten-year span from 2010 to 2020 Morinville’s staffing levels increased by 300 per cent

“When many of our own residents are out of work or underemployed or having to take rollbacks and many councillors are having to do the same, I really struggled with putting permanent positions into our budget this go-round,” Balanko said.

Asked by Richardson about the impact this might have, Chief Administrative Officer Stephane Labonne noted that the Administration is working on a project to transform the Town of Morinville staff, with a report to be brought before Council at its Committee of the Whole meeting next week.

Councillor Stephen Dafoe then proposed a motion to refer discussion of Balanko’s amendment and continuation of third reading of the budget to a special council meeting to be held following presentation of the transformation plan to Council.

“I think we need to hear that report because I think it’s directly connected to giving this motion a proper hearing,” said Dafoe.

The motion passed 4-3 with Mayor Turner and Deputy Mayor Hall opposed.

Earlier in the meeting Council had accepted recommendations from the Administration.

The first was that the budget be amended to reflect an increase in the required contribution to Edmonton Global, a regional economic development body, from $26,000 to $30,345 in 2021, to rise to $39,530 in 2022 and 2023.

Council passed the amendment, with Councillor Nicole Boutestein noting that it had little to choice but to do so, being bound by its contract with the organization. The motion passed 6-1 with Councillor Dafoe opposed.

It then passed a related motion from Boutestein directing the Administration to provide the Town’s two-year notice of withdrawal to Edmonton Metropolitan Region Economic Development, initiator of Edmonton Global.

Council also approved a recommendation to go ahead with obtaining grant funding for the Morinville and District Chamber of Commerce, to help the chamber and local businesses cope with the consequences of COVID-19.

The funding of $20,000 will come from the Government of Alberta’s MOST program and will not affect the 2021 budget.

“This is one of our first efforts at recovery for our community,” said Mayor Barry Turner. “We need to take a look at providing some COVID recovery dollars for our business community and I think the Chamber of Commerce is well-positioned to do that.”

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