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Reserve funding concerns voiced in budget talks

Posted on November 25, 2015 by Taber Times

By Trevor Busch
Taber Times
tbusch@tabertimes.com

Close to $18 million has been set aside in the town’s proposed 2016 capital budget, but administration has warned that continued underfunding of reserve transfers will have the town facing tough fiscal questions about future priorities.

At their Nov. 9 meeting, town council voted unanimously (6-0) to accept the 2016 budget proposal presentation as information. Coun. Jack Brewin was absent from the vote.

For 2016, the Town of Taber will be contributing only $2,654,174 to reserves.Total proposed capital purchases for 2016 top out at $17,613,600.

“On capital, we could be better,” said finance director Devon Wannop. “You see an amount close to $18 million, which is a little bit less than what we actually bring in, in revenues. That’s what we could spend on just our capital, not doing any operations, having any staff, or anything. Over the next three years, $17 million, right around $16 million, $12 million. Our projected capital projects over the next three years will be about $46 million. At the same time, we are only contributing about $6 million back into reserves.”

Proposed for engineering structures for 2016 ($12,623,000 total) includes the Eureka Development and Intersection ($400,000), 50th Street Gateway ($350,000), Downtown Street Light Program ($200,000), Surface Works ($425,000), East Taber Industrial Storm System – Phase III ($6,130,000), 57th Street Drainage Re-Direction ($390,000, Industrial Lagoon Upgrades ($4,398,000), and Sludge De-Watering System Upgrade ($330,000).

In future, Wannop pushed for the town to consider making capital plans that extend well beyond what is currently required by law.

“I would recommend that we not only think about the next three years — they’re obviously big for us, $46 million in capital projects — but start thinking longer-term. Under the new MGA (Municipal Government Act) in 2016, capital projects have been mandated for five years. I would recommend that we do at least a 10 year capital plan, just so if we have an expense in year eight that is a huge expense to the town, that we don’t wait five years in order to start saving for it. We need to start saving now, in order for the total cost to the town to be less.”

For 2016, buildings ($2,394,000 total) includes the Administration Building Energy Retrofit and Redesign ($625,000), Emergency Training Centre ($85,000), Historic Courthouse Windows ($75,000), Historic Courthouse Exterior Upgrades ($200,000), and Arena Refridgeration/Mechanical Systems Upgrade ($1,409,000).

Multi-million dollar infrastructure demands over the next three years has town administration warning that annually underfunding reserves at current levels will seriously deplete or even wipe out the town’s reserves should the municipality choose to take on all of the required projects currently proposed.

“Right now, the 1.5 per cent property tax increase that you’ve mandated, and that we’ve done, that’s great for operations, but that isn’t kicking back into our capital reserves that we know have been significantly underfunded in prior years. So we need to get back to ensuring that is fully funded,” said Wannop.

Proposed machinery and equipment for 2016 ($1,404,100 total) includes the Annual Computer Replacement ($50,000), Facilities and Recreation Software Upgrades ($30,000), Wireless Upgrade ($30,000), Server Upgrades ($38,500), VPN Appliance ($3,500), Radio Console ($42,000), Eventide Recording ($30,000), Hanging Planters and Pots ($7,000), Wheeled Excavator ($298,100), Water Meter Replacement Program ($250,000), Small Roll Out Carts ($520,000), RFID Software for Collection Carts ($40,000), Waste and Recycling Container ($15,000), and a Mini-Excavator ($50,000).

“I appreciate you being very blunt with us here, because that’s how it should be,” said Coun. Randy Sparks. “We’ve been told these numbers for a number of years now concerning capital projects. We just don’t seem to have the funding, we put them off and put them off. Now we’re facing a situation where we’ll have nothing left, and we’ve been asked previously to start putting more away in reserves so we can fund these projects. It’s tough to do it when we don’t have the money, and we have so many asks. but we need to take it seriously, because there will come a day when we have nothing left, if we have to cover all these projects. If we keep deferring, pretty soon there’s nothing there.”

Proposed land improvements for 2016 ($445,000 total) includes Field of Honour Continuous Base ($10,000), 50th Avenue West End Improvements ($35,000), Trail Extension to M.D. Park ($100,000), Kiwanis South Side ($50,000), Fourth Ball Diamond ($250,000).

Proposed for vehicles for 2016 ($747,500 total) includes a Police Car ($37,500), 1/2 Ton Truck ($35,000), Remote Control Mower ($75,000), Automated Sideload Collection Truck ($300,000), and Garbage Truck ($300,000).

“We’re not the only municipality in the country that is faced with the same dilemma,” said Sparks. “I don’t have very high hopes for either government (Trudeau Liberals, Notley NDP), but I hope they buck up and fulfill the promises they’ve made to every municipality.”

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