Residents will most likely see a slight bump to their property taxes in 2014 following the tabling of the proposed 2014 operating budget for the Town of Taber.
At the Nov. 25 town council meeting, director of corporate services Dale Culler presented the proposed document to council, detailing revenue and expense highlights for the town in 2014.
Still subject to change and the official endorsement of council, the proposed 2014 operating budget including specific budget items will be deliberated by council and administration in a series of upcoming meetings prior to final approval.
Total estimated revenues for 2014 amount to $19,796,690, representing an increase of $57,030, or a per cent of change of 0.29 per cent.
Total expenses for 2014 come in at $21,332,780, representing a $248,589 increase, or per cent of change of 1.18 per cent.
On the operating side of the budget, the town is currently showing a deficit of $338,760. The proposed 2014 operating budget currently reflects a 2.5 per cent increase in revenues generated from property taxes.
“On the tax side — just for illustrative purposes, because you do not have a balanced budget presented in front of you — we’re including about a 2.5 per cent increase where we’re currently at,” said Culler.
Under the proposed utility rates, water services for both residential and commercial, industrial and institutional properties will reflect a zero per cent increase to the fixed rate and zero per cent on variable fees.
“What we’re looking at on the utility side, is somewhat of a re-alignment from having a model that has water heavily subsidized by one of the other components, wastewater specifically — we’re looking at having a discussion with council about re-aligning the feeds,” said Culler.
For wastewater, residential properties will see a zero per cent fixed rate and 7.5 per cent on variable fees. Commercial, industrial and institutional properties will see a three per cent increase to fixed rates and a 7.5 per cent increase to variable rates.
“We’re looking at a about a 1.8 per cent increase on a combined net impact to a typical utility bill, for a typical family of four,” said Culler.
Stormwater, solid waste collection, and recycling will reflect a three per cent increase on all properties.
Taber Landfill and Transfer Station tipping fees will reflect a continuation of 2011 tipping fees at cost recovery levels. Tipping fees are being proposed to be held at the 2011 level while the town continues investigating its solid waste collection plan.
Franchise fee rate percentages are not proposed to change. Increases to revenue are expected to come from higher revenue forecast projections from both ATCO and Fortis. A transfer equal to 7.5 per cent of franchise fee revenue is being put aside in a capital reserve to be used for energy efficiency projects in the future.
The recreation board has recommended that there be a zero per cent increase to recreation and leisure services user fees across the board. Analysis of expected revenue in certain recreation department is still expected to increase even with a freeze due to expected increases in usership and attendance.
“The background to that, is that’s the recommendation coming forward from the rec board, that those fees not be subject to any adjustment in 2014,” said director of community services Rob Cressman.
Coun. Joe Strojwas was not in favour of a zero increase approach to recreation user fees.
“We’re looking to balance the budget, and we need to find other ways balance the budget other than raising taxes. This is why I believe in a user pay system rather than a general tax increase. That would be my basis on that.”
An expected return on investment from the town’s own portfolio is estimated to remain at the same $150,000 level budgeted in previous years. The same level of provincial MSI operating grant funding is expected in 2014 as was received in 2013.
In the area of expenditures, administration is recommending the addition of an engineering manager position, a full time recreation operator, a three quarter time custodian, and additional seasonal and casual hours in parks and recreation. The proposed increase in staffing levels is expected to add $294,850 to the budget.
“There are additional facilities that we are taking on, and have taken on over the last number of years, a combination of outdoor facilities, new park areas, additional sports fields, the skatepark,” said Cressman. “On the auditorium side, the additional three quarter time position comes more as an increase to service levels to provide more staffing during events when there are large numbers of people there. In the past we haven’t typically had employees on site during those times. So it’s an increase to the service level as opposed to an increased facility.”
The budget proposal incorporates all projects proposed by EPCOR. In total, EPCOR is requesting a budget of $521,250 for infrastructure repairs and rehabilitation. Through agreement, $100,000 is funded by EPCOR, with $213,017 funded from the town’s required contribution to the repair and rehabilitation reserve. This results in unfunded requests totalling $37,950 in the stormwater function, $73,888 in the water function, and $96,395 in the wastewater function. The proposed budget has been prepared showing the $208,233 shortfall being funded through utility fees.
Engineering expenses have been proposed to total $302,700, which is a 21 per cent decrease from 2013. The decrease is largely due to a reduction in the scope of work being proposed for 2014, due to the number of projects undertaken and completed in 2013.
The budget has been prepared using the figures presented to council from various community organizations, including $224,470 for the library, $42,000 for the handi-bus, $20,000 for the chamber of commerce, $8,104 for the museum, $7,000 for communities in bloom, $1,700 for the food bank, $10,000 for the Arts Council of Taber, and $24,490 in recreation facility rental fee waivers.
The proposed budget has been prepared based on the energy aggregation contract signed for the five year period 2014-2018, with consumption rates negotiated significantly lower than the period contract. Electricity is being budgeted at $1,166,760, and natural gas budgeted $246,150. The savings in electricity is expected to be $124,740 and in natural gas $161,850.
Council voted unanimously to table the proposed 2014 operating and capital budgets to a subsequent meeting for futher deliberation on budget items prior to a final approval by council.