On April 14, council voted 6-1 to defeat a motion to include a census project in the 2014 amended operating budget in the amount of $25,000, to be funded from general operating reserves. Coun. Laura Ross-Giroux was the sole vote in favour of the motion.
Administration had recommended undertaking a census of the town’s population in 2014 to obtain updated population numbers and associated demographic information. The last census was completed in 2011 by the federal government.
“In the last census, I believe the federal government did the census, and they included Johnson’s Addition and some M.D. residents as part of the town,” said Coun. Rick Popadynetz.
“So I’m curious — what’s the benefit this year of actually doing a census, if we come up numbers short?”
CAO Greg Birch indicated if the federal government’s 2011 figures were indeed inaccurate, there would be a risk of registering decreased population numbers.
“If you’re right — I don’t know that’s true, I wasn’t around in 2011 — there would be a risk. My assumption, just looking at past years, you’re going up by about one per cent per year since 2005.”
According to administration, the town receives per capita funding from senior levels of government pertaining to grants. Without an accurate population figure, the town could be losing out on essential funding. Census figures determined municipally tend to be more accurate that a census performed by the federal government, as the town goes door to door to account for each resident, while the federal government conducts their census via proxy.
“If that’s true what was said about Johnson’s Addition, I think it really behooves us to get an accurate figure of what our town population actually is,” said Coun. Laura Ross-Giroux. “I know the M.D. does a census, I think every year, and I believe the City of Lethbridge does one every second year. I think we’re really overdue for a good accounting of where we’re at. If you get so many dollars per capita from the government, you might as well try to get all you can out of it, and help make ends meet. I’m all in favour of this census.”
Coun. Randy Sparks pointed out a census at this time also had the potential to backfire on the town.
“But it could be the opposite, too, if we’re 500 less. We’re going to know where we’re at in two years. Just because of the unknowns — this is my opinion — I’d wait until 2016 and let the federal government take care of it.”
An accurate population count could also aid the town in managing the needs of residents when addressing issues such as education and schools, housing, health services, and employment, and would also assist the town in receiving a proper level of funding while helping allocate those funds, deciding future policy and planning important services.
“I don’t put any validity in the federal census,” said Coun. Ross-Giroux. “It’s optional — you don’t have to answer it. So how do we get a true accounting of our numbers?”
Coun. Sparks remained unswerved by this argument.
“Obviously we didn’t get a true accounting in 2011.”
Coun. Ross-Giroux suggested that was the very reason the Town of Taber should look to conduct a census in 2014.
“So why should we depend on that in two years then?”
At the Dec. 16, 2013 council meeting, administration had presented a special operating budget that included items that had been removed during 2014 budget deliberations, including a census. At the Dec. 9, 2013 special council meeting, council had indicated it would consider funding certain items from a forecasted 2013 surplus, expected to be in excess of the $181,500 needed to fund the inclusions in the Dec. 16, 2013 special operating budget.