Morinville has a multi-million-dollar deficit problem. It’s spending more operating dollars than it’s taking in through taxes, and has had to dip into its utilities fund to make up the difference — a short-term solution, as it will need those utility dollars the next time a sewer line breaks. A January 2020 report to council showed that the town was poised to blow past its self-imposed capital debt limit by 2027.
The Gazette emailed Morinville’s 11 council candidates this week to ask how they would resolve the town’s operating and capital deficits.
Anheliger, Boutestein, Dafoe
Jenn Anheliger said Morinville should engage in shared service delivery with its neighbours to find cost savings.
“I would like this council to take a hard look at spending and consider how it aligns with the community’s strategic goals and how it compares with the community’s desired level of service,” she said.
Anheliger said the town should encourage economic growth that is targeted at value-added industries, as they could drive more revenue to the town, and engage in thoughtful asset management to plan capital costs.
Nicole Boutestein said the town’s budget has to be based on what the town needs now and not necessarily what it wants, and should make full use of any available grants. Council has to stay the course and continue to implement its split mill rate for residential and non-residential properties.
“This is a hard path to stay on, especially with today’s economy. This hard decision is important to ensure affordability for both our businesses and residents in the years to come. We cannot go back to putting the burden only on our residents.”
Stephen Dafoe said Morinville has both a revenue and a spending problem, both of which must be examined together.
“It's easy to raise taxes and fees as some would prefer, but the hard part is taking a complete and honest look at our spending habits and patterns.”
Dafoe said council must take a deep look at the services it provides and the cost of those services, including the cost of labour, material, equipment, and contracted services. He noted that his call for a service level review last term was defeated in a 4-3 vote.
Gatza, Otway, Richardson
Wayne Gatza said he would do a complete review of the town’s financial picture, if elected.
“Obviously, we had a spending issue for the past three to four years which needs to be looked into to see where we can trim expenses.”
Gatza said council should aggressively recruit more businesses and develop approved subdivisions to raise revenue and create shared service agreements with its neighbours to cut costs.
“We must be looking to minimize the impact on our residents [how much taxes they pay] by ensuring we are frugal and business-minded in our approach to the finances of the community.”
Alan Otway said he would adopt the programs and policies used by municipalities that were top performers in terms of reducing deficits, and would require any capital projects to include calculations for their operation and maintenance costs. He would also focus on growing the tax base by attracting residents and businesses.
Scott Richardson said Morinville has a spending problem, and raising taxes is not the solution to it. He said the town needs to cut costs through organizational efficiencies and regional collaboration, particularly when it comes to bylaw and fire services. He would also support volunteer groups so they could continue to help build and finance parks and other town facilities.
“The town has way too many assets that are in a state of disrepair,” he said, and it needs to improve its asset management to reduce costs.
St. Denis, Vollick, White
Maurice St. Denis said he has spoken to many residents who want to see a recalibration of service delivery that aligns more accurately with the needs and priorities of the community. He proposed an online needs assessment survey that would let residents say which services were essential and which could be cut back to control costs. Council should also revisit its recreation cost-share agreement with Sturgeon County.
Erin Vollick said council should address duplication between Morinville and Sturgeon County.
“We should analyze the various aspects of these two entities and pare away at anything that could potentially be shared, right down to salaries and infrastructure,” she said.
Vollick said the town should also take a good look at whether the 28-odd boards it sits on are beneficial or necessary.
Ray White said he is not a proponent of raising taxes and believes council will have to “look at the needs and wants of the residents and make the financially responsible decision given the circumstances” to address the deficit. Council should also have a plan in place to repay any debts incurred for capital projects.
Rebecca Balanko and Sarah Hall did not file responses by deadline.