Council tasks administration with cuts in expenditures

tax bylaw

by Colin Smith

Morinville council has presented administration with a list of areas in which to look at expenditure cuts in an effort to trim the town’s 2023 budget and reduce a proposed 10% property tax increase.

The list, which includes both staffing and service expenditures, was developed during council’s regular meeting Tuesday, Nov. 8. on the basis of suggestions by the members. Council then passed a motion directing administration to bring forward the results to its next regular meeting.

At the head of the list was finding creative cost savings for the Morinville Community Cultural Centre and Morinville Leisure Centre.

Deferring the Utilities Master Plan project to 2024 is to be examined.

Council is also seeking a breakdown of cost of living adjustments for CUPE employees, out-of-scope employees and council.

Administration is being asked to work at reducing by 50% the cost of six new full-time-equivalent positions called for in the proposed budget.

These include new hires for tax and utilities clerk, Parks II and co-op seasonal employees, deputy fire chief and administrative support, as well as conversion of a contract position to full-time.

Also on the list is a review of service levels for possible reductions, including town- coordinated events. Some of which may be dropped, although not Festival Days, Light Up The Night or the Halloween Family Dance.

Possible support for some programming by community partners is also to be reviewed, along with facility operating hours.

Adoption of the list motion came at the end of a long meeting during which council members expressed dismay at the “dire” state of Morinville’s finances.

Years of deficits in the town’s tax-supported operational budgets, subsidized by surpluses on the utilities side, have resulted in low reserve levels.

According to Financial Services Manager Trevor Nosko, low reserve levels that could hamper needed infrastructure investment is one of three triggers necessary to prompt the provincial government to review the viability of a municipality.

Some council members also were concerned about being unable to get specific numbers they felt they needed to make judgments about cost reduction possibilities.

General Manager of Administrative Services Michelle Hay suggested the list of areas where council members saw cost reduction possibilities in order to give administration a sense of council’s budget trimming preferences.

“None of this has been easy,” Mayor Simon Boersma said at the end of the process. “It’s been a tough night. But at the same time, we want to speak with our residents and make sure, at the end of the day, we do it right.”

The 2023-25 Operating Budget and 2023-2027 Capital Plan were presented by administration and received as information by council at its October 25 meeting.

Under the proposed budget, the owner of an average residential home valued at $339,614 could expect to see a $271 annual increase, $23 per month, resulting in a $2,977 property tax bill for 2023.

Tax-supported budget expenditures are $19,734,040, which includes $10,794,239 for salaries, wages, benefits and training, $4,489, 451 for contracted and general services and $3,232,028 for materials goods and utilities.

Budgeted revenue includes a transfer from utilities of $1,798,167.

On November 22, the second draft of the budget will be presented and reviewed by council, followed by a public information session.

Approval of the budget is tentatively scheduled for December 6, although that might be extended if necessary.

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