Few complaints (or people) at budget open house

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Second reading next week

People and complaints were in short supply last week at an open house on the Morinville town budget.

Less than 15 people unaffiliated with town council or administration came to St. Germain Place Oct. 30 for an open house on the 2019 Morinville budget. About 40 came out to a similar event for the 2018 budget last January.

The budget proposes to raise the average town resident’s municipal taxes by three per cent, or $62.75 (not including hikes in the school and Homeland Housing requisitions). Business owners will see a 13.3-per-cent increase of $278.20 under the town’s new split mill rate. The budget also includes a $1.4-million operational deficit, much of which was due to the new rec-centre.

Also on the table are the 2019 utility rates, which will see most homeowners pay $36.60 more per year for water, sewer and garbage service, and 15 cents less per month for stormwater. Stormwater fees were previously paid out of taxes.

If these rates and the budget pass as-is, the average Morinville resident will pay about $175 more in all taxes and fees next year, which is the equivalent of about 18 dozen doughnuts from Tim Hortons.

Guests got to debate all aspects of this year’s draft budget with town officials.

Long-time town resident Ross Thompson spoke extensively with town financial services director Shawna Jason about the proposed tax hike, which was too high for his tastes. He blamed the tax hike on “the mess (council) made with the rec-centre funding.”

“Mismanagement has been a problem in this town for years,” he said, and council should demand administration make a 10-per-cent cut to their operating budget.

Elizabeth Makohonyk said she was concerned about the plans for stormwater rates, which are set to rise to $32 a month by 2027, as she was a senior on a fixed income.

“What’s going to happen in those nine years as far as other expenses? Will they go up as dramatically?”

Morinville loses a lot of potential tax revenue with its current equalized mill rate, said lifelong resident Dan Blackburn.

“I don’t think homeowners should be paying more, and I think business has the ability to perhaps pay more.”

While the town did need to find efficiencies to reduce the rec-centre’s deficit – forecast at $286,000 for 2019 – he noted that the town’s current arena has long run at a deficit. The rec-centre was about improving the town’s quality of life, not making money.

Residents also got to move buildings and sports fields around on a mock-up of the rec-centre lands. Council received a draft layout for the lands around the town’s new rec-centre earlier this fall, and plan to hold a workshop on them this January.

Jayson Wood, known for his work on the LAV III monument project, said he was excited by the placement of said monument in the draft plan, but apprehensive about the extensive dog park proposed north of the rec-centre.

“It’s bigger than the rec-centre itself,” he said, and he’d prefer some of it to be used for some other purpose – perhaps a BMX park.

Capital ideas

Residents also checked out the business cases for about $1.1 million in new capital projects in the budget.

About $22,500 of that was for new energy-efficient triple-pane windows to replace the ones on the south side of St. Germain Place, said town public works director Claude Valcourt. The current windows predate the building’s 2011 renovation, and are so leaky that they are playing havoc with the heating system.

Also in the capital budget is $200,000 to replace the fire hall’s parking lot (which, along with much of the fire hall, was wrecked in a flood this year), $123,525 to fix drainage problems in an alley east of 100 Street and north of 99 Avenue, $45,000 for a study on what kind of emergency generator to buy for the rec-centre and $15,000 for a community events trailer.

The budget is up for second reading Nov. 13. Visit www.morinville.ca/budget-2019 for details.

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.