So one of the most labour intensive So one of the most labour intensive exercise I take part in being on council is budget.
The idea of spending over $20-million every year to keep our community running and moving in the right direction is no easy task. Council examines each and every line item, and with the help of administration looks for efficiencies, examines how we do business and debates what improvements need to be made. We began the process of creating the budget back in November, shortly after the municipal election in October.
When we began the process we had expected to increase the budget by 6.5%.
So after four months, or meetings and discussions, where did we end up?
First off, council’s goal is to keep to the status quo when looking at budget. For the most part, what we did last year worked, so let’s keep doing that. In reality we sometimes change what we are doing because new people have new ideas, rules change, as well as technology and equipment changes.
The other significant issue is that nothing gets cheaper. People don’t work for less, insurance hasn’t gone down, technology isn’t any cheaper, and residents are still wanting the same, or more service.
Over the last two years, council (with the help of administration) has kept tax increases to zero. Last year to make it possible, we used a tax stabilization reserve (rainy day fund). We pulled almost $250,000 out of it to lessen the impact on tax payers. The economy has been tough and our residents were feeling the pinch. Unfortunately you can’t do that forever.
This year we had to account for increases again in carbon tax, new provincially legislated radio equipment for the RCMP and Fire Dept. We took a building that was paying taxes and turned it into a firehall, and so no more taxes are being paid on that property. This will be recouped at some point, but we will have to sell the old building first. We have to stop dipping into savings to pay the costs of today.
Additionally taking over operation of Legacy Centre will help increase customer service for users and hopefully work towards maximizing the facilities potential, but will cost us $50,000 towards increasing capacity to deal with the operations of this facility.
We had tremendous pressure this year from a number of groups saying they needed some more financial help. None of these are exciting, but they all have a cost whether we like it or not.
There was also “asks” from council or administration for things they want to add. Whether they be products or services many of these didn’t make the final list.
So with that all in mind, we began with a potential 6.5% increase to taxes.
Council got down to work to see where we could find cost savings, which would reduce that potential 6.5% increase. We began with staffing, and decided to run a little leaner eliminating some positions within our organization. Settling on some fair agreements with the MD of Lesser Slave River, in December, helped us to better plan for the future by understanding the long term picture.
The end result was a budget that was passed on Tuesday March 13th which included a tax increase of 1.34%.
Personally I feel like it was a huge success as this is lower than what the cost of living went up, but it’s far too early to celebrate.
Most of what we are doing this year isn’t very exciting. New roof on water treatment plant, new provincially mandated radios, fixing the flooring at MRC, a $12-million sewer upgrade, and the completion of the $19-million raw water line.
Ones that might be interesting to know is that we are investing in new signage around town and on the MRC, and approximately $200,000 worth of upgrades at the South West park. We will also repair roads and sidewalks in the North East.
Two big items remain though that has left us scratching our heads is how to deal with the aging pool. The Aquatic Centre is getting older and we need to put money into it, but before we do that we need to have some discussions with Northern Lakes College about the future of its location. So this year we will have some meetings and decide the best course forward.
Additionally we continue to have a HUGE issue with road maintenance. Mainly from a funding perspective, and council will have to decide over the next few weeks how we will deal with that.
I don’t expect anyone to read this and be overly excited. Largely we are investing in water and sewer this year, in projects that will lay the foundation for infrastructure that the next generations will benefit from but need to be done.
We are not decreasing service levels and this is always something to be proud of. We are looking after what we own by investing in the maintenance of our facilities and taking on the Legacy Centre operation we hope to better maximize the use of that facility and enhance the users experience by bringing in a higher level of service.
There are still some items that need to be dealt with that will take some planning and debate. In the end our job is to be accountable to the tax payer, make good decisions and provide a balance between what we need, what we want and want we can afford. At a 1.34% tax increase I think we are trying very hard to find that balance.