By Trevor Busch
Struggling with the fiscal restraint shown by the province in the Oct. 24 budget, the Town of Taber has made a series of cost-cutting decisions to claw the 2020 operating budget back into the black.
Administration balanced the 2020 operating budget by a five per cent reduction in council remuneration, reducing the deficit by $11,133, and lowering the number of officials originally planned for the trip to Japan in 2020 from three to one, thus saving the town $11,000. There will also be a reduction of $50,000 to the Council Discretionary Fund.
Over $200,000 in budget cuts came from the reduction of expenses in various departments, including a freeze in management wage step increases and employee training, travel and conferences. While the reduction required was $221,000, administration proposed an overall reduction of $278,000.
The excess reduction in the amount of $57,000 can be contributed to capital reserves or passed onto residents as a decrease in tax rate once property assessments are finalized in April – May 2020.
“We did balance the budget, but we decided to dive deeper just to make sure that at least we have some additional funds out there to go back into the reserves just in case things go south,” said finance director John Orwa at town council’s Nov. 25 meeting.
Total revenues will ring in at $24,702,162, with expenses higher at $29,493,172, and is considered balanced when factoring in amortization of $4,791,010. Net taxes come in at $9,497,218, while on the expense side of the equation, salaries, wages and benefits will cost taxpayers $11,327,186 in 2020.
“Throughout their deliberations, council made difficult decisions to help balance the budget in light of provincial funding cuts and the economic downturn Alberta is facing,” stated administration in a press release following the Nov. 25 meeting. “Administration brought forward a number of cuts and cost savings in order to create a budget that reflects the high service level our citizens have come to expect, while remaining fiscally responsible in the face of a tough economic climate…$101,457 of the cuts were the direct impact of reducing council’s wages, freezing management wages, and removing all non-essential staff training.”
According to administration, at the previous meeting on Nov. 12, council directed administration to balance the 2020 operating budget by reducing expenses in the amount of $221,452 and bringing these reductions back to the Nov. 25, 2019 meeting. However, there were no official resolutions to this effect following the closed session portion of the Nov. 12 meeting, where the town’s operating and capital budgets were discussed behind closed doors.
“Despite these cuts, the existing services and service levels town residents enjoy will be maintained to the highest extent possible,” stated administration in a press release.
The agenda package for the Nov. 25 meeting did not include an official operating budget, but provided only a budget summary. The Times formally requested the document, but as of Tuesday the town has not released this information to the public.
Coun. Garth Bekkering asked administration if they had included a built-in two per cent tax increase for the 2020 operating budget, stating he would prefer the overall tax increase to hover around 1.5 per cent, a sentiment closely echoed by Coun. Louie Tams.
“I’m never in favour of zero, because zero means you’re going nowhere, and eventually that’ll catch up to us really bad. I can live with 1.5, but I don’t think we can go any lower than that. It’ll sound nice this year, but it just cause nothing but grief. Eventually you have to catch up, or it will cause nothing but problems.”
In separate motions, council voted unanimously to direct CAO Cory Armfelt to amend Schedule “A” of Council Remuneration Procedure C-2 to reduce all monthly base salaries by five per cent, and to freeze management wage step increases in 2020.
In another vote, council also rescinded Res. 552/2019 which had previously directed sending Mayor Andrew Prokop, one councillor, and Armfelt to Higashiomi City, Japan in 2020.
Following these resolutions, council voted unanimously to approve the 2020 amended operating budget.
“Our budget process has seen some significant constraints and cuts,” said Mayor Andrew Prokop in a press release. “However, we know many citizens in our community are having to tighten their own belts and find efficiencies, and it is our duty as council to do the same on behalf of our taxpayers. These decisions weren’t easy, but I would like to thank administration for their diligence in providing council these options, and our staff for taking a number of cuts and freezes in order for council to pass a balanced budget for next year. Despite these cuts, I have no doubt our staff will continue to provide excellent service and our citizens will receive the best value for their tax dollars.”