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Morinville budget dips into the red

Four per cent hike and $1.2 million shortfall predicted

By: Kevin Ma

  |  Posted: Tuesday, Feb 11, 2014 04:30 pm

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Morinville residents may have to pay $75 more in taxes this year if council passes this year’s budget – a budget that features a shortfall of almost $1.2 million.

Town council was expected to pass first reading of its 2014 budget Tuesday night after the Gazette’s press deadline.

The budget, if passed unchanged, would see the average homeowner’s tax bill rise by about $75, not including changes in property tax or the province’s education levy, said town chief administrative officer Debbie Oyarzun.

It would also see the town take $1,214,519 out of its operational reserves to cover a budget shortfall, the majority of which ($846,271) is due to debt repayments.

Approved as is, this move would leave the town with just $44,916 in its operational reserves – down from about $1.3 million last year.

Town council will have many chances to change the budget before it passes, and could make cuts to leave more money in reserve, Oyarzun said.

“Any reduction in expenditures will affect service levels,” she said.

Climbing costs

Council passed an interim budget last December to give itself more time to consult residents about the 2014 budget. If passed, the 2014 budget will cover spending from March until December.

The draft budget predicts a four per cent residential/commercial tax hike plus a two per cent rise in real assessment.

Although this plus other grants and investments would net the town about $11.8 million in revenue, the budget proposes about $12.2 million in operational spending, creating a gap of $368,247.

The draft budget shows that the town’s operational spending has risen about 38 per cent since 2010, while its revenues have increased 11 per cent.

Much of this jump happened in 2011 when the town hired more staff to address the town’s growing population and to operate the new Morinville Community Cultural Centre, Oyarzun said.

Staffing levels since that time have remained relatively constant, but benefits, pension contributions and utility costs have not.

“We believe that resources are being managed prudently and carefully in order to retain service levels at current levels and expand services where required,” Oyarzun said.

The draft budget also proposes about $229,500 in new projects, the biggest of which is a $63,000 item to place trees, benches and picnic tables throughout town. Next biggest is a $50,000 organizational operation review, the scope of which has yet to be specified.

The draft budget also includes about $3.7 million in capital spending, all but about nine per cent of which come from grants.

About $1 million of this is tagged for a new arena/recreation complex. Last December after it learned the Ray McDonald Sports Centre is on its last legs, town council asked administration to look into a new arena.

Oyarzun said this $1 million would be for preliminary work on the arena, with the majority of construction happening in 2015 and 2016. The arena’s cost has previously been pegged at $10 million.

Open house next week

Town residents can have a say on the budget next week at a pair of open houses.

Oyarzun said the format will be similar to the open houses held during the last two budgets, but with a focus on service levels. Residents will be able to comment on subjects such as snow removal, building permits, programs offered by community services, and other issues.

Information on photo radar – subject of an upcoming plebiscite – will also be available.

The open house runs from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Community Cultural Centre this Feb. 18 and 19. Comments can also be made by calling 780-939-4361 or emailing budget2014@morinville.ca.

The draft budget should be posted to the town’s website later this week.


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