Morinville approves 2023 budget at 3.5% increase

tax bylaw

by Colin Smith

Morinville council members have agreed on a town budget for the upcoming year.

At its regular meeting, Tuesday, council approved the 2023-2025 operating budget and 2023-2027 capital plan.

The operating budget calls for $11,605,193 in tax revenue and will result in a tax rate increase of about 3.5%.

For average residential property owners, that increase would amount to $8.53 monthly or $94.80 annually. Non-residential owners would see an increase of $48.58 monthly or $582.96 for the year.

On October 25, at the beginning of budget deliberations, administration presented council with a draft operating budget requiring an expense increase of $1.845 million or 8%. It recommended a 10% tax increase, pulling in $12,334, 021, with the additional revenue to go towards beefing up Morinville’s depleted operating reserves.

During the course of the budget deliberations, council and administration came up with $687,975 in total savings from the proposed budget.

Among the savings is $358,000 from operating hour cutbacks at the Morinville Leisure Centre and Morinville Community Cultural Centre.

Revisions to proposed staffing additions and changes resulted in $220,414 in savings, while there were reductions of $56,667 in contracted service requests.

Other reductions include $76,560 due to the elimination of 2023 cost of living adjustments for council members and $93,332 from the correction of an accounting error, while a benefit-cost increase and internal accounting transfer pushed the number back up by $116,998.

A motion by Rebecca Balanko at the Tuesday meeting would have cut the town grant to the Morinville Community Library by some $27,000, to the same level as 2022. However, voting on the motion was tied, with Scott Richardson not yet at the meeting, resulting in its defeat by council’s procedural rules.

Instead the library will receive the full $559,096 it requested. The Morinville Historical Society is getting $110,210.

Throughout the deliberations, administration had continued to recommend a 10% tax increase, with the surplus, including that resulting from the reductions to go to the reserves.

Morinville’s operating reserves are currently in the hole to the tune of $1,223,537.81, mainly driven by a negative balance of $1,917,432.37 for the tax stabilization reserve.

While the utility stabilization reserve is at $673,835.50, the snow removal reserve contains only $20,059, and the facility infrastructure reserve has a balance of zero.

In addition, the town’s ongoing operating budget deficit results in the town drawing against the relatively healthy capital reserves, which are in large part supported by utility fees, diminishing their capacity to fund future large scale projects.

In the end, the discussion was brought to a head when Mayor Simon Boersma moved that the proposed budget, to bring in $11,605,193 in tax revenue, be approved.

In arguing for his motion, Boersma said the reserve issue was very important but also pointed to the number of Morinville residents hurting because of tough economic times who needed some relief.

“I think about the folks on fixed incomes,” said Balanko in support of the motion. “Everything’s gone up.”

Councillor Maurice St. Denis indicated he felt the amount of funds going into the operating reserves with a 3.5% increase was not optimal.

He supported an amendment by Councillor Jen Anheliger that would have raised the tax rate by 5%.

“I think we’re in a good position to make operating reserve contributions,” Anheliger said. “The next two or three years are not going to be any easier.”

Councillor Stephen Dafoe said he could not support Councillor Anheliger’s motion at 5% but might have had it been 4%.

The amendment was defeated five to two, with Anheliger and St. Denis in favour, and Boersma, Balanko, Dafoe, Richardson and White opposed.

Council then voted in favour of the mayor’s motion, with Boersma, Balanko, Dafoe, Richardson in favour, and Anheliger and St. Denis opposed.

Following the budget approval, Boersma introduced another motion calling for the first draft of upcoming budgets to include provision for annual transfers of $300,000 to the reserves.

The motion was passed six to one, with Deputy Mayor Ray White opposed on the basis that he did not want to tie Council’s hands at budget time.

The proposed 2023-25 consolidated operating budget, comprising tax- and utilities budgets includes revenue of $25,770,588 for the upcoming year, including $11,605,193 in taxation revenue and $7,680,959 in water, wastewater and solid waste fees.

Residential utilities costs will go up by an estimated $212 annually to $1,829, $152.38 monthly, with rises in water, sanitary, solid waste and stormwater rates.

Budgeted expenses total $25,499,516, plus other expenditures, including debt principal of $1,035,753, offset by federal capital grants of $610,632.

The 2023-2027 Capital Plan calls for an estimated $3,435,000 in spending, mainly on ongoing infrastructure maintenance, repair and renewal programs, but including $185,000 for design work for a new Town Hall emergency generator and for finalization of the mandatory Alberta First Responders Radio Communications System project.

The plan will be funded through held-over provincial government funding and municipal reserves, with no 2023 tax revenue required.

Financial Manager Travis Nosko informed council that the proposed property tax rate for 2023 will be finalized once administration has complete data on Morinville’s growth

Even if growth of the town has not reached the expected 1.5%, there will be minimal financial impact on property owners, he said.

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