By Trevor Busch
Portrayed as a move to more accurately reflect actual fine revenues being gathered in the community, in November 2016, the Taber Municipal Police Commission approved a transfer of $125,000 in fine revenue to the town to assist in balancing the municipal budget.
“When you make budgets, you want to be realistic,” said Mayor Henk DeVlieger in a recent interview. “If you know every year you always have big surpluses, then you’re not being realistic. More and more, too, we want to go to each department that stands on its own, so that we can get a better idea of what things cost. That has to do with that. It’s more streamlining. It’s more an administrative thing than anything.”
Following closed session (in camera) discussion at their Nov. 10, 2016 regular meeting, the Taber Municipal Police Commission voted to support taking $125,000 from the fine revenue line, as per the advice of town administration, and move it to be used to balance the municipal budget. According to the minutes of that meeting, the vote on the motion (moved by Coun. Randy Sparks) was not unanimous.
“Overall, with the town budget, what the mayor and council were wanting to do in regards to balancing it, they had gone to all of the different departments and said we need to find some more money in the budget so that the overall budget can work where we want it to. So they asked all the departments to do that,” said commission chair Ken Holst in an interview last week. “As you know, our budget is really tight, we don’t have a lot that we have a lot of control over, outside of wages and benefits. There’s only a very small portion that’s operational that we have control over, and we’re running that very tight, as tight as we possibly can, so there wasn’t really a lot for us to be able to do to contribute to that, but we did come up with the fact that we could increase our fine revenue line higher. We’ve always — smart budgeting in my mind — underestimated the amount of fine revenues that historically have been the actual.”
Adjusting fine revenue estimates higher could potentially have some financial implications for the commission and police service, as this is a line item which can sometimes see wide fluctuations from year to year.
“Fine revenues are never guaranteed, there’s so many variables to it that could increase or decrease,” said Holst. “So historically, what the actuals have been, we’ve always budgeted below that, saying that the trend has been that we’ve been bringing in ‘x’ in fine revenues, but we budget that amount lower than that because it’s not guaranteed. So to help with the overall budget, what we did is increased that budget amount for fine revenues by $125,000, which puts it close to what actual was the previous year — and again, no guarantee that that’s the case — but that allowed and assisted the overall town budget to balance.”
Utilizing fine revenues to balance budgets — a source of revenue often subject to a significant degree of volatility on an annual basis — can become a risky practice if that fine revenue comes to be relied upon as a structural support in budgeting.
“It’s not one that we necessarily like to do, because again, it’s not guaranteed,” said Holst. “We like to play a safer game as far as revenues that are not guaranteed. You estimate low and hope for high, that’s how budgets are run, and that’s why we normally ran a little bit lower. We feel that’s a little bit of a risk, increasing that, but again we’re wanting to assist and help the overall budget as much as we can, too.”
DeVlieger, who served as chair of the police commission prior to his election as mayor, contended that estimating revenues as accurately as possible is actually a preferable best practice regarding municipal budgeting.
“Over the last number of years fine revenues were always higher than what they budgeted for, and in order to make a balanced budget they say you have to become more realistic as to what fine revenues are, because fine revenues will offset part of the police budget. But they ended up every year with a surplus, so therefore they took more fine revenues, that way they could balance the budget better.”