by Colin Smith
Morinville council has decided against trying to save hundreds of thousands of dollars in the 2023 budget, specifically by cutting town staff costs.
At a special meeting Tuesday, Nov. 21, council members voted unanimously to rescind a motion calling on administration to come back to council with the implications of budget cuts of $200,000, $300,000, $500,000 and $700,000 targeted at staff costs.
That motion had been passed 5-2 at council’s regular meeting the previous week, with information on possible reductions to staff salaries, wages and benefits and training sought by December 12.
Councillor Scott Richardson, who had originally proposed the motion, moved that it be rescinded.
This followed a presentation by Chief Administrative Officer Naleen Narayan and then a closed session of council.
In his presentation, Narayan declared that administration would be unable to provide council with the staffing implications of the possible budget cuts by December 12 as called for in the motion.
He then put forward a view of council’s role as providing a strategic vision, stressing that need for long-term planning rather than too narrowly on the current situation.
Narayan said he stands behind the 2024 budget, which would result in a 7.3% tax increase, pointing to rising costs beyond the town’s control and defending its level of economic efficiency.
He warned council about staff resources already being stretched thin, indicating that budget reductions could result in a drop in well-being and efficiency, along with an increase in the town’s already high turnover rate.
“The reality is that this is a service-based organization,” Narayan told council. “Any cuts are going to have an impact on service levels and quality.”
Following the presentation, Richardson and Councillor Maurice St. Denis asked questions about staff retention and staffing pressure points within the organization but were informed that these were more appropriately dealt with in closed session.
Council then went into the closed session, and after it came out, Richardson moved to rescind.
“I would be willing to put forward a motion to rescind in the light of the information we have received tonight,” he said.
Still in force is a second motion passed by council at its November 14 meeting.
Moved by Councillor Stephen Dafoe, the motion called on the administration to find $200,000 in operational savings in the 2024 budget.
At that time, Dafoe emphasized that this motion was not related to the one targeting staff costs, and might be a replacement for it in whole or in part.
Narayan affirmed that the administration was able to bring forward this information on December 12.
A subsequent motion by Dafoe on Nov. 21 asking admin to come forward with approximate costs to do a service level review in 2024 passed unanimously.