By Trevor Busch
The Town of Taber’s community services department is requesting a 29.79 per cent increase in their proposed annual operating budget for 2015.
At a special budget meeting of town council held on Nov. 5, director of community services Rob Cressman presented the department’s annual operating budget to council for future deliberation.
The proposed 2015 net budget is $3,181,941, up $730,384 from 2014, or an increase of 29.79 per cent. For 2015, the community services department expects $1,278,263 in revenue, with total expenditures pegged at $4,460,204.
“The majority of that increase is a result of contractual obligations to employee contracts, and the $500,000 or so increase in contracted and general services, and the just under $200,000 increase for 2015 for materials, goods and supplies,” said Cressman.
The community services department provides recreation, facilities maintenance, property management, and cemetery services for Taber and area residents and visitors.
Action items for 2015 include providing support to the performing arts centre committee and preparation of a final report by the first quarter, completion of the main entrance rehabilitation of the historic Taber Courthouse and planning for the next phase in conjunction with Alberta Heritage, preparation of a request for proposals for the arena dressing room expansion, continuing work on the preparation of a recreation master plan, completion of phase three of the trail system, development of a public art program, landscape design and Christmas lights displays, a commemorative project honouring Dr. Gerald Beckie, modernization of the Community Centre, and research and evaluate options for implementation of a records management system for the cemetery.
“I think to some degree it’s a statement about the aging infrastructure, and through no fault of anybody, I think over the years we perhaps haven’t invested in our facilities as we should have,” said Cressman. “What you’re seeing today is probably some pretty scary and daunting numbers that may or may not be manageable, but we want to be sure that you understand the circumstances out there, and the kinds of things that need to be done over the next year or coming years.”
Cressman went on to note planning for a modernization of the Community Centre must be a priority in future.
“The Community Centre is in need of modernization, mechanical system upgrades, and asphalt rehabilitation in the parking lot. The Community Centre modernization is a great opportunity for the town — we need to be starting to prepare and setting up for a modernization of that facility.”
Two new seasonal positions are being proposed, the first in parks to meet the growing needs of the town’s beautification program, and another in facilities maintenance to help perform additional maintenance on the town’s various buildings. Total cost of the proposed positions is $37,500, primarily wages and benefits.
“Facility maintenance is a portion of the overall organization that was transferred into the community services department in 2014,” said Cressman. “There are three employees in that area, and we have so many buildings and so much equipment to take care of, and there’s been a real shift in how that has happened.”
With a growing demand for the arts, council has established a broad-based committee to assess the feasibility of developing a performing arts facility.
With guidance from the Taber Recreation Board, the long-term vision for recreation and culture in Taber will be developed by engaging residents, assessing their needs, and ultimately developing a Recreation Master Plan.
“We do have some projects that we anticipate drawing from the energy reserve, or at least entering into competition for the energy reserve funds that will be available in 2015,” said Cressman.
“One, for example, would be switching the exterior street lights around the Community Centre and the Aquafun Centre from the existing older technology lights to LED lights.”
The proposed 2015 operating budget reflects the addition of the spray park, and a public art program intended to support and encourage local artists by displaying their work in strategic locations. Confederation Park’s playground is also scheduled to be upgraded in partnership with a local service club.
Cressman confirmed planning will likely be underway for completion of another section of the town’s pedestrian trail system in 2015.
“The next logical step for trail construction would be to connect from where it terminates currently north of the cemetery and tie into the M.D. of Taber Park. In 2015, we would recommend the town’s administration and the M.D.’s administration, and both councils, explore the options available about how to do that — it’s a pretty challenging location there to go down a steep slope. But I think we all also recognize that’s going to be a feature piece of the successful pedestrian trail that has been developed.”
Coun. Joe Strojwas questioned if the town had ever investigated the possibility of contracting out parks work during the summer months in an effort to generate fiscal efficiencies for the department.
“Three or four years ago we did receive a proposal from a local contractor to do that work,” said Cressman. “When we did the analysis, at that time — at least three or four years ago — there wasn’t a real economic advantage to the town to do that. That’s not to say it couldn’t be done again.”
Coun. Strojwas suggested implementation of a pilot project in future might help determine if there would be a cost benefit involved in contracting out parks work.