Morinville residents will have to give up about six dozen doughnuts this year in order to pay for town council’s recently approved tax hike.
Morinville town council signed off on its 2018 budget last Feb. 27 after extensive debate.
While the initial budget proposed a six per cent tax hike, council carved a net $476,952 in operating and $180,000 in capital spending off it to reduce that to about 1 per cent. That works out to about $20.69 more municipal tax for the owner of a typical $300,000 home ($2,089.71 total).
Add in projected increases to the school and seniors levies ($15.40 and $0.58) and previously approved hikes to utility rates ($25.83 more for the average home), and most town taxpayers can expect to pay about $62.50 more in all taxes this year – equivalent to about six dozen doughnuts at Tim Hortons or 31 guided tours of the Musée Morinville Museum.
Mayor Barry Turner said this increase was just about where he wanted the budget to end up, and that he was happy with the changes council had made.
“Council did a great job, to be honest.”
Lots of cuts
Council trimmed $106,656 from the operating budget earlier in February by cancelling cash for the Chamber of Commerce trade show, Oktoberfest, contracted services, a fire master plan, and a service level review. Councillors knocked the capital plan back $195,000 by delaying Perras Place Park and cancelling a salt shed.
Council supported Coun. Stephen Dafoe’s call on Feb. 27 for $180,000 in unspecified operating cuts to come from any four government departments.
Council also supported Mayor Barry Turner’s move to have $50,000 of this cut come from cancelling a proposed long-range financial plan in a 6-1 vote (Coun. Nicole Boutestein opposed). Town financial services director Shawna Jason said that plan could still happen without that money – it would just take a few more years.
Dafoe also won support to trim $2,100 from the upcoming Easter egg hunt. The hunt will still have eggs, crafts, and Peter Cottontail, but won’t be as extravagant as planned, he explained.
Boutestein initially proposed to add $230,000 in capital spending to construct paved trails between the rec-centre and the town’s trail network, saying, “If we don’t do it now, it’s not going to be done when the building is open.”
When council heard that most of these trails were already set to be put in as gravel and could be paved later, Boutestein instead proposed to add $80,000 in capital to pave just the bit of trail needed to connect those gravel trails to the rest of the town’s trail network, winning council’s full support.
Boutestein also convinced council to lop a $65,000 south-side digital sign off of the capital budget after she pointed out that it was cheaper to rent such a sign.
Coun. Sarah Hall proposed cutting the $35,000 plan to restore a baseball diamond by the Ray MacDonald arena, but was outvoted 3-4 by Turner, Dafoe, and councillors Lawrence Giffin and Scott Richardson.
“Morinville hasn’t built a ball diamond since 1993,” Richardson said, and has lost three diamonds since then. Interest in baseball had also grown significantly in town.
“Removing this would be detrimental to baseball.”
Festival and library debates
Council spent much of Tuesday night debating what to do about the town’s library and festival society. The two groups had asked for 57 and 53 per cent hikes in funding, respectively.
After a flurry of amendments and counter-amendments by Dafoe, Boutestein, and Turner, council agreed to hold its support of the festival society at 2017 levels ($18,500), with the caveat that $2,500 of that go toward the firefighters’ combat challenge and the rest be jointly managed by the town and the society. In a 4-3 vote (Turner, Giffin, and Boutestein opposed), council voted to cut $7,465 from the budget for an Aboriginal Days celebration and to instead get that sum from the money they were giving to the festival society.
For the library, Dafoe and Boutestein proposed duelling amendments, with Boutestein wanting to cut more and Dafoe less.
While Boutestein said that library staff would still get a raise despite her proposal, Turner and Dafoe said that the town needed to move the library towards a living wage, and that the library provided an essential municipal service.
Council voted 3-4 against Boutestein’s proposal to cut the library’s funding request by $204,316 and 4-3 in favour of Dafoe’s move to cut it by $171,016 (Boutestein, Giffin and Coun. Rebecca Balanko in the minority in both cases).
That means the library will now get $508,753 in support, or 17 per cent more than they got last year.
Council later backed a move by Hall to have the mayor ask the library board to consider a town-funded service-level review of the library.
“It’s important we do have this service-level review, otherwise we’re going to have the same conversations and the same bad feelings year after year,” Hall said.
Council will set the town’s actual mill rate in April.