After two long days of budget deliberations town council looks ready to bring a modest 1.5 per cent tax increase to residents.
Deliberations were held Thursday, Nov. 12 and 13 in a public meeting with a focus on a small tax increase due to the slow economy, said Mayor Rick Bonnett. “It was a very tough budget to pull through.”
Initially, the draft interim budget proposed a three per cent increase but Bonnett said council sifted through details line by line to find funds from carryforward projects that were not needed. Approximately $100,000 was pulled out of a landfill project that was no longer needed.
Also during deliberations, staff pulled money from budgeted salaries for operations out of the Hudson Green Nature and Activity Centre that were not needed. This helped council create funds for a new peace officer position, which will take the place of the bylaw officer position.
The draft interim budget allows for $67,000 for the peace officer job, which includes salary, benefits, workers compensation and training. Bonnett says a truck has been budgeted for as well in the fleet replacement program.
Despite the small tax increase, Bonnett said council wants to have several reports ready in the event that the province or the federal government opens up granting for large capital projects. “We’re hoping to be part of that infrastructure win.”
Other areas council wants to see spending drop is for unnecessary projects. During deliberations, administration requested $150,000 to redo the aquaplex roof, but council did not feel that would be necessary considering it is on its last legs.
Dave McPhee, director of operations and property services said there has not been a full engineering study on the building and the leaks could not be found. He recommended fixing the roof. “This will fix it without having to spend three times the capital amount.”
Council suggested he take some of the money from the $150,000 and conduct a structural integrity study to determine if it is worth putting any more money into the building.
“If the building is done, I don’t want to see a 20-year fix for it,” added Bonnett during deliberations.
Four aging playgrounds will be replaced over the next two years. For 2016, there is $160,000 budgeted and another $136,000 for 2017. The four playgrounds were built in the 1980s, Wes Amendt, director of community services told council.
Councillors also took away the 1.3 per cent cost of living adjustment from their own remuneration but kept it for management staff. Union staff will see an increase in their salaries as it was an agreement made with the union last year.
Coun. Tim Falkiner was not present at the budget meetings and Coun. Teri Underhill attended a portion of the Friday meeting.
How the budget might change
The area that could see the draft interim budget change and see a tax increase is if talks with Ponoka County on a regional fire services fall through.
In that case, the town would have to find money to pay for its share of the fire hall, equipment and salaries considering Ponoka County currently pays half the operating costs.
The town has budgeted for the purchase of a $500,000 fire truck with a fixed master stream water cannon. While council gave the nod for the budget item, Coun. Carla Prediger suggested at budget deliberations that any requests related to capital purchases should include the county first.
The current truck, a 2007 Rosenbauer engine, is shared with Ponoka County.
Ponoka County’s fire services agreement is set to expire in April, 2016 and the county has already begun the process of moving forward with its regional system.