New town council has budget task ahead

Residents in the Town of Ponoka have spoken and a new council has been elected.

Residents in the Town of Ponoka have spoken and a new council has been elected. Only two of the candidates are incumbents and one, Rick Bonnett, is the mayor elect; so now administration must get councillors ready for the next four years. For some, there may be a steep learning curve. CAO Brad Watson has hired management consultant George Cuff to help with the transition.

Councillors will learn important tips such as legal issues, the Municipal Government Act and dealing with the press. While training is happening, town directors will be planning out their budgets and working to guide the new council with the process.

“The number crunching is there but here’s a bit more dialogue…We must make it understandable,” explained Watson.

Watson said it would be better to present the information in ways that everyone can understand using such tools as strong visual representations, maps and charts. Directors have been preparing orientation packages while also getting budget requests together. Budget deliberations bring requests not only from town departments but they also come from groups and organizations.

Despite these requests, council is under strict guidelines on how money can be spent through other organizations. Watson said they must consider the requests along with those policies.

“Those that make requests come and make a presentation to council and you look at the budgets that you’ve covered…The council can take it under advisement,” added Watson. “They look at what they are doing. “They always look at how much money they have in the bank.”

The position of director of operations and property services has not yet been filled, so Watson has worked with the foremen in different areas such as sewer, water, electrical and public works to prepare a budget plan for those services.

“Capital-wise, the work projects came from our 10 year plan,” he said in an email.

Last year’s strategic priorities

Working through the numbers might not be as daunting as it sounds; the 2013 budget will be a good guide for new councillors. In it, the strategic priorities and goals are outlined.

• Ensuring modern and reliable infrastructure through upgrades and new development.

• Work with the community stakeholders to create a distinctive image for the community of Ponoka.

• Increase the diversity and number of businesses in the community.

• Improve communication with the public and strengthen community engagement.

• Maintain a safe and healthy community.

Focus areas in 2013 are listed as follows:

• Aging buildings

• Infrastructure management

• Staff service levels

• Industrial and economic development

• Managing debt

Other areas such as long-term community development, joint agreements and policing were focus areas, but were not in progress due to timing and resources.

One week after new councillors travel to the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association conference planned for Nov. 20 to 22 in Calgary, they will enter into budget deliberations Nov. 28 and 29 in closed sessions.