File photo

File photo

Ponoka town council concludes two-day budget deliberations

Council prepared to take pay cut to keep tax increase low

After two long days in council chambers hammering out some soft figures, council, staff and administration are starting to get a picture of what the budget for the upcoming year will look like.

Council held it’s budget deliberations Nov. 20 and 21.

During deliberations, council makes “straw” votes or motions, meaning they are unofficial and just for the purposes of that meeting. The budget will not be final until a polished version is brought before council for its consideration.

By the end of the two days, Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Albert Flootman says the feeling was that administration, staff and council were “very pleased” with the amount of effort and collaboration during the deliberation.

“I’m confident we will come to a good result,” said Flootman.

At the beginning of the process, administration presented a draft budget that represented a 13.6 per cent tax rate increase, which was whittled down to 7 per cent by the end of the second day, with council directing administration make further cuts to bring it down even further.

A proposal put forward by Coun. Teri Underhill, which council fully supported, was that administration shave off a further 2.5 per cent off costs in three areas: purchases, supplies and materials, and other services (amounting to a $335,000 in operating costs) while councillors would take a 1.5 per cent pay cut.

The resulting tax increase would be in the 2.5 to 2.7 per cent range.

Sandra Lund, general manager of corporate services, told council that in future, it would be better to get this kind of direction from council, before any budget is presented.

Near the end of the second day, council was deliberating on the budget ask from the Ponoka Youth Centre. The centre had asked council for funding in the amount of $15,000 and $3,200 in-kind donations in pool fees and utilities during the Oct. 22 council meeting.

READ MORE: Community groups come to Ponoka town council with budget asks

A motion was put forward to fund the youth centre in the amount of $5,000 as well as the in-kind donations, but was defeated 3-4.

A second motion, put forward by Coun. Carla Prediger, was to approve the in-kind donations and ask for a collaborative presentation from community organizations that provide services and programming to children and youth.

After a presentation, council would decide on granting any funding based on what is available at the time. Agencies would have until April 1st to make a presentation to council.

The motion carried 4-3.

Although budget deliberations was open to the public, with the exception of a few in-camera items, it’s a more informal proceeding and official minutes aren’t taken, so community groups waiting to hear about funding will likely have to wait before the budget comes back before council again.

Council will need to approve an interim budget before the end of 2019, for the first few months of 2020, to “keep the lights on,” says Flootman.

The final operating and capital budgets for 2020 can only be completed after the town completes its 2019 year end, receives its audit, financial statements are done, the surplus for the current year is known, and property assessments are completed.

All of this will take until March or April, and the operating and capital budgets will be presented for council’s approval in April.

A new tax bylaw and new tax rate will then be put to council in May, and tax bills sent out to residents.

The total amount needed for the operating budget determines how much tax needs to be collected, which is then divided by the number of properties in town, and the value of your home determines the portion of tax you pay, in simple terms, says Flootman.

“Creating a budget is a lengthy and stressful process,” said Flootman, adding it’s a balance between meeting needs and maintaining services without too much of an increase in the tax rate, and that the town takes that responsibility seriously.

“We don’t want to create undue hardship.”

READ MORE: Fort Ostell Museum, Ponoka FCSS make their requests to council

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