by Colin Smith
A Council pay cut and town service level reductions are being considered as efforts continue to finalize a 2022 budget for Morinville by the March 31 deadline.
At its regular meeting on Tuesday council directed the administration to bring forward an operating and capital budget draft to its March 8 meeting.
This budget, replacing the initial draft presented on December 6 that was rejected by council, would incorporate considerations established by council members following a committee of the whole session.
The draft budget would be based on a 3.5% property tax increase to support the operating budget and 1.5% for the capital budget, with a 1.1.15 residential-non-residential tax split.
Operating budget elements include a council pay cut, a 5% rollback in the base honorarium received by council members, to remain until the end of this council term, proposed by Deputy Mayor Stephen Dafoe, and the mirroring of town out-of-scope staff compensation with that of CUPE staff.
Service level cuts include reducing the number of hours the Morinville Leisure Centre is open by 20, eliminating Live at the MCCC events, reducing the number of town-organized seasonal events, cutting the flower planting budget in half and eliminating the Vacant Non-Residential Improvement Grant.
The reductions are expected to result in savings of $154,500 over the draft budget.
Increases from the previous draft include an additional $75,000 for snow and ice control.
Funding for the library would increase by $75,569, although that is still less than their appropriation request and reinstatement of $25,000 in Sturgeon County funding that had been directed to the town. Musee Morinville Museum funding would be cut by 10%, $10,000, as put forward by Councillor Rebecca Balanko.
All unallocated Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) funds would go toward the 2022 capital budget. Together with the proposed 1.5% capital tax that would ensure that budget is fully funded, without the need for a special tax as proposed in the initial draft budget.
In opting to look at a 3.5% tax increase council is setting aside an administration recommendation that it choose the first of three budget scenarios presented at its January 22 meeting.
Scenario one would see a 5% residential tax increase to go toward the operating budget in 2022, along with a 1.92% per cent increase benefiting the capital budget, for a total increase of 6.92%. The residential to non-residential tax split would go from 1.1.1 to 1.1.2.
An overall 5.5% total increase would result from the second scenario, with 4% of the increased revenues to go toward the operating budget and 1.5% to the capital budget. The tax-split would go to 1.1.2.
In the third scenario, there would be a 3% operational increase and a 1.5% capital increase, for a total increase of 4.5%. The tax split would rise to 1.1.15.
According to Financial Services Manager Travis Nosko, each 1% of tax represents about $104,000 in income for the town. A drop from the 4% of the second scenario to 3.5% represents is $52,000 less in revenue.
Asked by Councillor Maurice St. Denis about the administration’s recommendation, Michelle Hay, general manager of administrative services, answered that it continues to be scenario one, as when first presented and, that she would never recommend option three.
“Out of due diligence and fiduciary responsibility, across this the entire organization we have extrapolated 100% that we would never recommend something that would put us in a bigger deficit position than we are already in,” said Hay.
“So option one and the path it puts us on, the trajectory to getting back to black aggressively would continue to be our recommendation, absolutely.”
In introducing the draft budget motion, Mayor Simon Boersma expressed a sense that council had made significant progress.
“I think we’ve come a long way tonight,” he said. “No one wants to see increases, but I think it’s important that we operate without that deficit. We also need to be open to our residents and tell them why and how we are doing this.”
Commented Councillor Scott Richardson, “Given that we’ve lost a lot of government funding, and with inflation, it’s the best of a bad situation.”
Dafoe also noted that Morinville’s budgetary problems are not all of its own making.
“The million bucks that we are not getting from the province and the $300,000 extra we have to pay for policing — $1.3 million, that’s roughly a 10% tax increase right there,” he said. “Am I happy about this number? Absolutely not.”
The vote on the motion passed unanimously.