By Trevor Busch
Twin reserve transfers totaling almost $857,000 have been approved by town council to stabilize the proposed 2018 and 2019 operating budgets.
During the Dec. 4 special budget meeting, administration had outlined for council that without a transfer of unspent funds from 2017 to 2018 there would be a prospect of service level consequences for public works, parks and the cemetery. Managers from their respective areas provided a defense of items that were proposed to be cut from the operating budget.
The town’s revised draft 2018-2020 operating budget presented on Dec. 4 was amended based on an increase in wages to employees (unanticipated due to the acceptance of former EPCOR employees) and council, as well as decreased revenue from leases. The utility rate model was proposed to be held steady for the next operating budget cycle, while the budget proposal was still incorporating an overall 3.2 per cent net tax revenue increase.
In the area of proposed cuts in 2018, the IT department could have seen $1,000 taken from a vehicle budget. Roads and walks could have potentially seen $12,550 axed. Storm water could have seen $60,500 economized from its budget, as well as $95,000 for water. For wastewater, $78,250 could potentially have been cut, and in landfill, some $10,850. Waste management could have seen the axe fall on $21,250.
“I actually cut the budget down before this got cut, so we were actually down to bare minimum at the beginning,” said public works director Gary Scherer. “What’s in here is what we need.”
Coun. Joe Strojwas supported Scherer’s assessment.
“We need this equipment, we can’t operate without this kind of stuff. I can’t see us deleting it.”
Some $18,800 had also been on the line in land use planning, as well as $24,700 from the CAO department’s budget, while health and safety had $2,500 at risk. In parks, another $11,000 was on the chopping block, followed by $87,372 in arena spending, along with $8,700 for sports fields. At the Aquafun Centre, $12,500 was on the line.
Assessing projects that had been slated for later in the 2018-2020 proposed operating budget, Coun. Jack Brewin pointed to 2020 as a big year for projected expenditures.
“2020 is a big year, because things have been put off,” said recreation director Aline Holmen. “There’s several things in 2020 that probably should have been done in 2012, 2013, 2014 — what happens is they keep getting pushed back. And they could get pushed back again. But I’m putting them there in the forefront because of things that need to happen.”
Coun. Mark Garner inquired if there were areas in Holmen’s budget which could sustain some cost-cutting.
“I would delete the CCTV cameras for the Trout Pond and Ken McDonald (Memorial Sports Park). And I would probably — I know it’s not big dollars — delete the picnic tables in the arena lobby as well.”
Also being considered for departmental cuts was $1,000 respectively from the auditorium and cemetery budgets, as well as $1,000 in program spending.
While attempting to eliminate a $395,000 deficit, finance director John Orwa suggested the items that were being considered were really in areas that would be difficult to maintain efficient operations if the cuts were maintained.
“Since we took those items out, we are saying we have now balanced the budget. But these items we discussed last time (Nov. 27) that are very essential, that we need for our normal operations, the cost of doing business.”
Coun. Garth Bekkering was not in favour of many of the proposed cuts, and signaled a willingness to consider covering any shortfalls with reserve transfers.
“We’ve discussed many, many small items, which add up to a fairly decent size. I cannot see that we can cut on anything that’s been proposed in this particular presentation. Perhaps in 2020 we can cut back on some benches and CCTV cameras. Certainly in 2018 and 2019, I don’t think we can afford to cut any more than we’ve already cut. If that means we have to take some additional funds out of reserves, so be it, to balance the budget.”
Strojwas questioned the inclusion of a new Recreation Operator 1 position, and Tams also sought clarification on whether the hiring could be postponed.
“That’s totally up to council, but what it does is affect the level of service,” said Holmen. “We’ve had really good service in the parks the last couple of years and the parks have looked fantastic, but if we add the Trout Pond and Prairie Lakes without the addition of a person, we’re going to have to decrease our level of service and the amount of time that we’re mowing to make it work. That’s a fact.”
CAO Cory Armfelt defended the inclusion of the position.
“In order to keep up the level of service that the municipality has experienced in the last few years, we can’t do it with the addition of the Trout Pond and Prairie Lakes.”
Also targeted was grass cutting, which Strojwas suggested might be reduced from two cuttings per week to one to reduce costs.
“We’re on an irrigation and fertilization process for all our parks and sport fields, and the grass grows so quick we do have rental areas that have to be maintained, so if we start cutting levels of service on what the expected is from all of our users, it’s probably going to be vocal coming back that we’re not meeting the level of service that we have been meeting,” said recreation manager Trent Smith.
Brewin supported the position as a vital hiring for the town.
“I thing something we’ve got to realize with taking on the Trout Pond and the extra parks in 2018, the Trout Pond alone almost would equal Confederation Park I would think in labour, garbage, and just maintenance. I can see that you need one more person here.”
Following discussion, council voted unanimously to direct administration to take an additional $510,732 from reserves to stabilize the amended 2018 operating budget, and in a follow-up motion, council voted unanimously to direct administration to take an additional $346,026 from reserves to stabilize the amended 2019 operating budget.