Morinville residents will get to speak out next week about how town council should deal with a proposed deficit budget.
Town council passed first reading of the 2015 budget Tuesday night.
Council tabled a draft version of the budget last October, and held five coffee-shop talks with residents on it earlier this month.
The budget, if approved in its current form, would involve a two per cent overall tax increase plus a 3.5 per cent rise in property values, not including changes to the school tax or the Sturgeon Foundation levy.
A two per cent tax hike would add about $38.16 more to the average Morinville homeowner’s tax bill, said town chief financial officer Andy Isbister ($1,946.06 versus $1,907.90).
The October draft budget featured an operational deficit of about $1.2 million, about 70 per cent of which was due to debt payments on the Community Cultural Centre loan.
The first reading version adds a net $31,000 to that deficit in operational spending, as well as $50,000 in new capital projects.
These additions came out of the coffee-shop talks and council’s budget workshops, said Mayor Lisa Holmes.
Council spent about $10,000 last year to hold more open houses and public barbecues in an attempt to improve public engagement, Holmes said. The attempt proved successful, so now council wants to make this an ongoing project.
The remaining $21,000 is meant to create more family events and a new French heritage festival along the lines of Oktoberfest, Holmes continued. The festival would coincide with the Rendez-vous de la Francophonie in March.
The $50,000 in capital cash would go toward a new south-side entrance sign.
Council cut funding for this sign in previous budgets out of concerns that it would be built over by an upcoming overpass at Cardiff Corner.
Since the province has now said that the overpass won’t be considered for a couple of years, the town is revisiting the sign issue, Holmes said.
“Our sign needs to be replaced. It’s old and doesn’t give that great first impression to Morinville that we want,” she said
The biggest ticket item in the capital budget is still the new arena/recreation complex, pegged at $13.75 million.
Council has spent the past few months nailing down a location for the arena and should announce its location before the end of the year, Holmes said. Council plans to hold an open house on the design of the arena on Dec. 11, likely at the Community Cultural Centre.
“We’re going to bring all the information we’ve received … and really sit down and say, ‘What could this building be?’”
Passed as is, the budget would leave the town $47,926 in the hole even if it drains all its operational reserves.
Council has yet to debate what items it wants to keep in the budget, and might cut some of them at second reading, Holmes noted.
“The $13.7 million for the rec-centre doesn’t give us a lot of wiggle room, so we have to make sure we’re really prudent with the things we pick and choose to put in this year for other projects.”
Town residents can have their say on the budget at an open house this Dec. 2 on the second floor of St. Germain Place from 6 to 8 p.m. They can also send comments to email@example.com.
Budget documents, and a survey on the budget, can be found at www.morinville.ca/index.php/budget-2015.
The budget goes to second reading Dec. 9.