By Trevor Busch
Judging by the atmosphere beginning to prevail in town council chambers, there’s no mistaking 2017 is a municipal election year.
Taking dead aim at comments made about town reserves by Coun. Randy Sparks earlier this month, Mayor Henk DeVlieger was on the offensive during the March 13 regular meeting.
“To start off, I would like to respond, correct and take away the negativity of the remarks made by Councillor Sparks at our last council meeting regarding lessening and lessening our reserves every year, which concerns him,” said DeVlieger, reading from a prepared statement. “This was also reported in The Taber Times last week (March 8 edition). This council, with the help of administration, has done the opposite.”
DeVlieger attacked Sparks’ comments made during a special budget meeting on March 1, in which the councillor appeared to be critical of employing town reserves to balance the 2018-2019 municipal operating budget.
“Because it’s a shell game or a crystal ball in the future. It looks good now, but I struggle when using projected fine revenues because that is a crystal ball also,” said Sparks on March 1. “I’d prefer to be putting money into reserves as opposed to taking it out. I’m hoping after these two years we can start doing that. Our reserves are lessening and lessening every year, when they should be getting more so we are protecting ourselves for the future.”
The budget presented on March 1 for 2018-2019 is balanced, but in doing so, there has been a transfer from capital reserves of $600,000 both years.
“We, as a municipality, want to move ahead, become more efficient and make our community more desirable to reside in,” continued DeVlieger on March 13. “We may have to consider at times upfront investments in order to create long-term positive financial gain, which might mean digging into our reserves, which then can be replenished with the gain made. I realize that reserves are there to protect us from unforeseen circumstances in the future, but we have to ask ourselves the question how large do we want those reserves to be? I myself see nothing wrong by using reserves as a tool, with a conservative calculated risk, to make our community financially stronger and more viable for future growth.”
DeVlieger contends that the Town of Taber has actually enhanced reserves, not depleted them, citing a series of figures.
“I want to make it clear to our taxpayers that we have not depleted our reserves with this council. To the contrary, this council with the help of administration, increased the operating and capital reserves by over $2 million to $12.4 million in three years, which is close to 20 per cent, since this council was elected.”
DeVlieger appeared to equate responsible government with positivity, and was critical of what he termed “negativity” on the part of fellow council.
“The residents of the town elected this council to govern responsibly, and guide this town to be financially sustainable in the future, but also to ensure a high quality of life, and economic growth. We will do our utmost best in the 2017 budget year to fulfill these goals. Not with negativity, but only with a progressive and positive attitude we can accomplish progress for our community.”
Suggesting that the budget documents are still subject to change, DeVlieger speculated that reserve transfers may be offset by other factors in future.
“I believe the proposed 2018-2019 budget is fair and responsible. There are a number of unknown revenue factors that are not factored in these budgets, such as special grants, unknown property sales, lower tenders, new innovations, and others; they can have a positive effect to lower or eliminate the budgeted $600,000 from reserves in these two budgets. History has proven this is a good possibility.”
After finishing these statements, Sparks requested DeVlieger repeat his opening paragraph before he responded to the allegations.
“My remarks at that council meeting were in no way negative,” said Sparks. “I was just making a comment that council just needs to make sure in the future that we look at reserves, and trying to keep our reserves at a certain level. It was not being negative. I take huge offence to that comment you just made about being negative. It wasn’t meant to be negative, I appreciate administration, what everyone does here, to where reserves are and what they’re doing for the town into the future. That is uncalled for, it was not negative, my comment wasn’t negative. Totally uncalled for.”
That being said, DeVlieger wasn’t ready to concede defeat.
“In response, you made the remark that over the last while, we’ve been lessening and lessening our reserves, which is incorrect. That quote was made in The Taber Times as well, and which I got a few phone calls, about the concern that we as a council have been lessening and lessening our reserves.”
Sparks attempted to clarify the comment’s intent, suggesting the town needs to be careful with reserves, but DeVlieger took issue with this characterization.
“No, we lessened the reserves already. And that is not true.”
While not suggesting the quote was inaccurate, Sparks indicated the intent may have been misinterpreted.
“If that’s what was quoted, that wasn’t the intention, all I said was we need to be careful with what we’re doing with reserves in the future.”
With dogged determination, DeVlieger continued to press home his position over what he viewed as an inaccurate statement.
“I was just responding to that first remark, that we lessen and lessen, and it is not true. This council does its utmost best, and we improved the reserves by a couple million dollars.”
While Sparks yielded agreement to this assertion, DeVlieger appeared to be nonplussed.
“Well, then, maybe you should talk to The Taber Times,” said DeVlieger.
As a point of order, Coun. Rick Popadynetz asked if in future prepared statements by Mayor DeVlieger should be included as part of the agenda package prior to a meeting, a procedural peccadillo readily supported by Sparks but met with disdain by DeVlieger.
“And I have the freedom to speak. We live in a democracy.”