Above: Deputy Mayor Ray White and Councillor Stephen Dafoe talk to Morinville Chamber of Commerce President Shaun Thompson, who was one of 12 people to attend Tuesday night’s Budget Open House. – Lucie Roy Photo
by Colin Smith
A council caught between the need to ensure Morinville’s financial stability and the desire to spare residents substantial tax increases made little obvious progress toward establishing a 2023 budget at its regular meeting Tuesday.
At the meeting, shorter than usual due to a public hearing on the budget scheduled for that evening, council members declined to endorse any of three budgetary options put forward by administration.
The one budgetary step council did take was to eliminate the 2023 cost of living adjustment for council members and non-unionized staff.
Resulting from a motion by Councillor Scott Richardson, the measure will result in a reduction of $84,474 in the estimated 2023 tax-supported operating budget expenditures of $19.6 million.
The cost of living adjustment for town workers who are Canadian Union of Public Employees members, totalling $27,171, will not be affected.
The move came after council came out of closed session, which it had gone into to discuss town service levels related to staff positions and full-time equivalents.
The agenda indicated the closed session was justified by sections of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act relating to disclosures harmful to personal privacy and to advice from officials.
Earlier in the meeting, Financial Services Manager Travis Nosko presented council with three options for the budget devised by administration since council members’ most recent discussion of a proposed draft budget on November 8.
These options took into account potential savings of $455,401 resulting from reductions in hours of operations at the Morinville Leisure Centre and Morinville Community Centre, as well as job and contracted resources cuts.
Administration advised against the previously discussed possibilities of saving money through community group involvement and deferring a $120,000 update of the town’s utilities master plan scheduled for next year.
“As discussed in the 2023 budget process, it is essential to the long-term viability of the Town of Morinville that additional contributions be made in the reserves of the community to allow for necessary infrastructure,” stated the budget report presented by Nosko.
“An investment by council in the financial stability of the town now will pay dividends in the near future.”
Budget Option 1, the option recommended by administration, would see the tax rate increase remain at the previously proposed 10%, with the identified saving added to a budgeted reserve contribution, which would total $909,155.
The average residential increase would be $79.68 per $100,000 in assessment, for a rise $22.55 per month, based on average assessment of $339,000, a total of $270.62 per year.
Option 2 would see council drop the proposed tax rate by 2% to 8%, providing for a $684,900 reserve contribution.
Under this option, the average residential impact would be $63.74 per $100,000, $18.04 per month, $216.48 per year.
If council were to choose Option 3, the tax rate increase would be 6% and the reserve contribution $460,645.
For $100,000 in assessment, the tax impact would be $47.81, with a yearly increase of $162.35, $13.53 per month.
Deputy Mayor Ray White declared his opposition to the proposed options.
“If you are looking at the 10% tax increase and the utilities increases that are proposed, you’re looking at a $428 increase for the average property. That’s serious money,” he said. “I can’t support even a 6% increase. For me it’s got to be 4%, or less.”
Mayor Simon Boersma pointed out that there was little support for the proposed budget options among council members.
“I don’t see a movement on any of these three at the moment,” he said. “I think there has to be some more discussion.”
Council will hold a special meeting for further discussions of the budget on Tuesday, November 29.
Tuesday night’s Budget Open House drew only 12 people over the 90-minute event.
Councillor Scott Richardson talks to a resident at the Budget Open House. – Lucie Roy Photo