Patrick Draper thinks St. Albert residents get excellent value for their tax dollar and wants the city to know it.
In presenting his first budget to city council Monday, the city manager was unapologetic when it came to explaining the proposed 2013 budget to councillors and what administration felt the city needed.
Gone were the standard lines from previous members of administration describing past budgets as “bare bones" or "lean." Instead of shying away from the proposed maximum 5.14 per cent tax increase or avoiding the number of proposed new full-time equivalents, Draper pushed council to consider the needs of the community ahead of how much it is going to cost.
“I think we must remember it is people in the administration that actually provides the services to residents,” Draper said as he spent almost an hour introducing the budget.
The operating budget ranges anywhere from $81 million to $83 million, depending on how many of 38 proposed business cases are approved by council.
Draper and the rest of the city's administration have broken the proposed operating budget into two components. The first is the base budget, which will maintain existing service levels. To do so would require a tax increase of 2.32 per cent and a 6.5 per cent increase to utility rates.
Total inflationary and wage pressures have increased the cost of providing 2012 services by approximately 6.93 per cent. That will be offset by increases in user fees and fines. Administration has also identified $1.14 million in savings, from insurance to overtime to a natural gas contract that have also reduced the total impact.
The second part involves business cases for new spending. If all 38 were approved, taxes would rise another 2.82 per cent for a total of 5.14 per cent, a number some councillors find too high.
"There's a lot that's a little much," Coun. Cathy Heron said, adding her preference was for a total tax increase of 2.5 per cent.
"I think we could probably work with the base budget as well."
Instead of recommending which cases will be funded and unfunded, as has been the practice in the past, Draper has recommended all 38 proposed cases while listing six as "critical" in the minds of administration.
Those include the hiring of a small business specialist for economic development, six new police officers over the next three years, conducting an assessment of the city's natural areas, implementing the recommendations of the handibus review, hiring a web co-ordinator for the city's communications department and taking on funding for a neighbourhood development co-ordinator for FCSS, as well as starting a summer youth music festival.
But many of those business cases are already being approached with skepticism, especially the hiring of six new police officers for a total of more than $125,000 in 2013, which increases to almost $700,000 by 2015. The RCMP traditionally ask for more officers than they can staff because leaves and transfers mean the detachment is never fully staffed. Last year's policing request met with sharp criticism from council because of the practice, especially with Coun. Brodhead.
"I'm going to be looking just as hard this year," Brodhead said. "One of the things I find difficult is to fund additional officers when they haven't been able to fund the current establishment."
The economic development department is also asking for three new staff members, which would cost a total of $330,000.
In all, the 38 business cases propose 22 full-time equivalent staff members, a number Mayor Nolan Crouse can't yet justify.
"Thirty business cases and 22 FTEs aren't going to get council's full endorsement," Crouse said. "We will hear it out and that's the process."
Increasing residential taxes 2.14 per cent, according to the city, means homeowners will pay an extra $65.21 per $400,000 of assessed value. A non-residential property tax rate increase of 2.35 per cent as proposed means a warehouse would pay $251.62 more per $900,000 of assessment.
The capital budget has a proposed cost of $15.2 million and includes such projects as upgrades to Veness Road and preliminary planning for a community support centre to house the 50+ Club and other non-profit groups.
Lynda Flannery, the only person in the gallery for the budget presentation, was not impressed with Draper's presentation.
"Other cities have lots of revenues that give them lots to spend but we don't have that money," Flannery said, encouraging council to vote down the proposed budget.
This year's budget process will see council hold fewer and shorter deliberation sessions. There will be presentations for parts of the budget that seldom change. The public will be able to make presentations to council at the beginning of every meeting.
Council will not officially start budget deliberations as committee of the whole until Nov. 20, with the goal of passing the budget on Monday Dec. 17. Following Monday's presentation, there are three planned open houses, each of which will be hosted by different community groups.
The first, on Monday, Nov. 5, will be hosted by the community services advisory board at Sir George Simpson School. The second town hall will be Tuesday Nov. 6 at St. Albert Catholic High School and will be hosted by the St. Albert Kinsmen, Youth Community Centre, VASA, Community Information and Volunteer Centre and public library.
The third open house will follow Thursday, Nov. 8 at the Youth Community Centre. It will be co-hosted by the chamber of commerce, NABI, St. Albert Taxpayers Association and St. Albert Housing Society. All three run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
All of council's budget deliberations will also be webstreamed at www.stalbert.ca. Only meetings of council will be aired on Shaw cable.