Council budget debate comes up short on lowering tax increase

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Round one of 2015 budget deliberations finds some savings for city

St. Albert’s “tax-o-meter” held steady at an average 3.3 per cent property tax increase following council’s first round of budget debate this week.

During the Thursday night debate session, council had indeed cut a few hundred thousand dollars out of its draft budget.

But that money has been chopped from categories that are funded from the city’s expected new assessment growth next year, changes that, barring a motion from council, don’t impact the tax rate increase.

Heritage funding found itself at the forefront of the debate, with motions put forward to delay funding the second phase of the Grain Elevator Park expansion and to postpone renovations to Juneau House.

Both motions were put forward by Coun. Sheena Hughes. She argued for a delay to phase two of the heritage park revamp because phase one is behind schedule. She also expressed concerns about the scope of the project, which was approved a few years ago and is set to cost several million dollars.

A majority of council argued against the delay, noting the plans were approved and are available for review already.

“This is a good project for our community and we need to get behind it,” said Coun. Wes Brodhead.

Hughes’ Juneau House motion would have had a report created to look at selling the property versus renovating it, with the councillor saying the house doesn’t have much historical value. Council voted against delaying the planned renovations.

Requests from outside agencies were, for the most part, approved as recommended by the community services advisory board. However, council declined to provide $37,780 to Michif Cultural and Resource Institute to pay for a full-time administrative employee.

A motion from Brodhead to fund water efficient toilet rebates in 2015 was approved, though not without debate. A similar motion from Brodhead was defeated during last year’s budget process.

Council axed items such as a city building branding conceptual review, increasing capital budgets for the library and the 50+ Club building projects, a proposed municipal development plan review in 2016 and more.

The Taché Street T-Bird twin seat jet trainer will apparently remain grounded through 2015 as council opted to not proceed with repairing and re-installing the plane, which might eventually be moved.

Council doesn’t want to pay to re-install the plane only to move it again, so the decision was made to wait until 2016 to repair and move the plane to its final destination, which could be its original home on TachĂ© Street.

Council went ahead with motions to build more transit waiting shelters, install safety fencing along five baseball diamonds and increase funds to fight black knot in the city’s trees.

The hiring of a talent attraction and retention specialist was nixed, as was a suggestion to fund an electrical safety codes officer. Other new hires up for debate, such as the cultural fundraiser position, were retained.

Council will return to budget debates on Dec. 2. At least one more night of debate lies ahead for council, and they still have several outstanding motions to cover, including a proposal to withdraw $4.18 million in city capital funding from the first phase of the St. Anne Street realignment.

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