I have to confess I have fallen behind on my updates lately. This is due in large part to the fact that council has been consumed by budget over the last couple of months. Budget is not an easy thing.
There is an expectation to make things better while saving money and the combination is often challenging. In reality things cost money and costs never seem to go down. That being said Council understands the pressures of the current economic situation in our area. 2015 will be a tough year for many as plummeting oil prices, layoffs and shortage of work are affecting how much money we have to spend. On the other side council feels the pressure from the community on improving services. Whether this involves having more to do in town, better road maintenance, or increased policing, there is an overwhelming feeling that people want more and better. There are things the public doesn’t see that requires people and money such as clean drinking water and looking after our own assets. These things are far from sexy, and yet still need to get done.
So after 90 hours of meetings and going through each and every department’s budget line by line, this is what we ended up with. We are adding 5 new positions because as much as people cost money, we can’t get work done without them. These include a new person in Recreation services who will add to the programming available giving residents more options for things to do. We have seen some great work done by our General Investigations Unit here in town so we are adding a third officer and giving RCMP direction to reduce crime and get the troublemakers off the streets. We have added a person to the water plant, to make sure we keep clean drinking water coming out the tap and the toilet flushes keep moving in the right direction. With the addition of our government center, new town shop, the MRC expansion and field house, we need another person to help do maintenance and look after the infrastructure we built. There is no sense building something if we are not going to look after it and contracting out is expensive. Lastly we are going to add another heavy equipment operator to help make improvements to things such as gravel roads, snow removal and street sweeping.
We also took a good look at our equipment fleet. We asked ourselves the questions: What we are supposed to have? What we do have? What we use? And how much time we spend fixing the old stuff? We have a replacement schedule where we buy new equipment and are supposed to get rid of the old stuff. Usually if it’s not worth much we keep it, and then end up using it. This creates and artificial level of service and increases maintenance costs. So after a comprehensive look at this we decided a new street sweeper and a new grader were necessary.
You will also see $11 million spent to do more work on roads, sidewalks and underground infrastructure in the recovery areas. Although that is badly needed, we also know we are overdue to show some of the other areas in town some attention. Where do we start? We decided 2015 is a year of assessment. We are looking at all our roads, underground lines, sidewalks, walking trails etc. We are going to determine what work needs to get done and create a priority structure and determine funding options. We are also going to look at drainage plans and land use and see if some updates need to be made there. Lastly we are going to re-do our recreation master plan that helps guide us in service delivery when it comes to what our residents need and want.
There are many other adjustments throughout the budget, but this is the quick overview. All of the above sounds great, but you are probably terrified about what it’s going to cost you. So here it is. First off I have discussed in the past that we pay based on what our properties are worth. So our assessor let us know that on average they were seeing about a 6 per cent increase in property values. This would result in people paying 6 per cent more in taxes which we thought was too much. So we decreased the mill rate. This has not been done much in the past and never since I have been on council.
The short and sweet of it is that almost half the population will see a decrease in taxes from last year to this year. The ones that will see an increase, were constructed last year, will see about 1.7% increase on average. So how did we do this? Through a combination of grants, reserves, growth in assessment base and some clean up and cutting of certain areas within the budget 2015 is possible. I think this budget is something our community will benefit from; service levels will increase all the while our departments will need to be mindful of spending. It feels like success right now, but only time will tell if we made the right decisions. If you want more details feel free to check out the Town website where you can get a closer look at what the budget looks like.