For the first time in many years Town of Ponoka budget deliberations were open to the public and the press. As of the time of writing, Ponoka’s 2015 interim budget was still a draft document. Changes can be made until council approves it. Councillors were to approve the budget at their Dec. 16 meeting.
After crunching the numbers, Town of Ponoka residents can expect to see a three per cent increase in taxes in 2015.
Town council and administration spent Dec. 8 and 9 deliberating on Ponoka’s 2015 interim draft budget with priorities being given to public works projects and staffing.
For every $100,000 assessment on a home, residents can expect to pay an addition $21 per year, explained Betty Quinlan, director of corporate services for the Town of Ponoka. If a home is assessed at $300,000, taxpayers will pay an addition $63 per year.
The $15 million operating budget for 2015 saw an increased amount of expenses in order to pay for new positions to address staffing shortages, according to Quinlan. For 2015, the transfer from operating budget to capital expenses was reduced to $530,000 compared to $710,000 in 2014.
Staffing becomes a priority with the town seeing new positions in the public works department, at the Aquaplex and by bringing the human resources and communications officer positions to full time.
“It’s all to provide increased service levels,” said Quinlan.
Staff training is starting to see some improvements as well. Administration intends on improving employees’ skills, which was not on the program for some years.
“We would like to eventually have a training program,” Quinlan explained.
“There’s always been money budgeted for council training but not for staff,” she added.
North Bridge the largest of capital projects
With $10.2 million in capital projects, $3.9 million of which were carried forward from 2014, priority was given to public works with the North Bridge seeing a large chunk of those costs.
Estimated costs for the North Bridge replacement are at $3.6 million, $3.15 million will be debentured and the rest will come from grants.
There is some preparation by town planners to improve infrastructure and to prepare for expansion into newly annexed land east of Highway 2, across from the Don Laing Industrial Park.
Dave McPhee, director of operations and property services, told councillors that when he looks at projects he scores them according five criteria:
1 – Is it legislated?
2 – Is it meeting service levels?
3 – Does it enhance services?
4 – Is it a safety issue?
5 – Anything that doesn’t fall under the first four categories.
“That’s how I do my capital planning,” said McPhee. “If it’s legislated, it overrules safety.”
Quinlan says other departments such as community services or recreation generally lose out budget dollars if property services has a project that is legislated. “It tends to shortchange recreation,” she said.
CAO Rachel Kunz advised council that directors who have presented capital projects plan on completing them in the project year. Rather than delay a project or make it carry forward into the next year, Kunz wants to see them completed.
“If they’re (projects) in here, it’s because we’ve said we have the manpower to do it,” said Kunz.
Other projects include rehabilitating water mains on 50 Street and planning for the Ponoka Industrial Airport.
(More project specific budget information is in our story titled Public works and staffing a priority in 2015 draft budget.)