Town council trims and tweaks budget

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Trees, dog park, signs reduced, operations review doubled

Trees, windows, signs and a dog park all felt the axe last week as Morinville town council cut spending from its 2014 budget.

Morinville council passed second reading of its 2014 budget last week after hours of debate.

Council cut a net $45,500 from the budget by the end of the night, adding $9,500 in operational dollars and cutting $55,000 in capital.

And there could be more cuts to come. Coun. Barry Turner asked staff to look at the effects of holding programming, community services and community cultural centre cash to 2013 levels. Doing so would knock about $96,352 from the budget.

Additions and deletions

The big winner last week was the town’s organizational and operational review. Originally pegged at $50,000, council supported Coun. Brennan Fitzgerald’s move to double it to $100,000 so it could be done in one year instead of two.

“Getting this done as soon as possible is good for the community,” Fitzgerald said.

A one-year review would give council an additional year in which to implement recommendations, Coun. Rob Ladouceur said.

Coun. Stephen Dafoe emphasized that this was not a “head-hunting” expedition to go after administration. “This is an efficiency review. Are we doing the best job we can?”

Coun. Nicole Boutestein won unanimous support for her move to cut $7,500 tagged for building community capacity (volunteerism), saying that the town already had staffers that were doing this task.

Turner, who had put the $7,500 item in the budget in the first place, then moved to have council’s community engagement budget upped by $2,500 (bringing it to $10,000) to compensate. He admitted that council did not yet have a clear idea as to how it would use this money.

Dafoe opposed the move. “I think if we don’t know what we’ll do with $7,500, we also don’t know what we’ll do with $10,000.”

Turner’s addition passed 4-3, with Dafoe, Fitzgerald and Ladouceur opposed.

Council supported a move by Ladouceur (on behalf of Mayor Lisa Holmes) to cut $10,000 from the building maintenance fund.

Holmes suggested that staff defer replacement of some windows until next year to account for the cut.

They also backed Dafoe’s move to cut $22,500 from the traffic engineering study after town staff told them that the study would cost $22,500 less than they originally thought.

Dafoe moved to excise a $25,000 capital item for a permanent community cultural centre sign. While the centre did need one, he said the banner it currently had should do for now.

Turner disagreed. “That building is a great addition to the community,” he said, and needs something more than a simple banner. “We need to put a sign on that building that we can be proud of.”

Council passed the motion 5-2, with Turner and Fitzgerald opposed.

Dafoe was the lone naysayer in a 6-1 vote in support of Ladouceur’s motion to reduce the town’s tree planting and open space enhancement fund by $13,000.

“I think $500 trees are expensive,” Ladouceur said, referring to the per-tree cost of the 50 trees staff proposed to plant under the 2014 budget. While it would be up to staff to decide where to make these cuts, he suggested they delay some of the new trees until next year and look to sponsors to fund new park benches.

Dafoe was also the odd-man-out when it came to a $20,000 reduction in capital spending by Ladouceur for an off-leash dog park.

The park was a high priority item for residents at the recent open house and a hot topic during the election campaign, Dafoe said.

This was not an attempt to cap the cost of the park, Ladouceur said – just the amount of tax support going to it. (Town staff said they were currently seeking sponsors for the park as well.)

The cut passed 6-1.

Defeated motions

Boutestein initially moved to cut $15,000 for a new floor-cleaning machine, as she was under the impression that it was not broken.

When corporate operations manager Dave Schaefer told her it was breaking down regularly, was unlikely to last another year and was actually under repair right now, she joined the rest of council in voting against the motion.

Boutestein also moved to cut $38,856 for fire emergency warning lights from the budget. While these lights would warn residents when a fire truck was about to leave the station, she said that the town should wait until it finished its traffic engineering study first to see if they were needed.

“I’ve lived here 36 years and I’ve never heard of any incidents happening,” she said.

Schaefer said there had been multiple complaints of near-collisions between fire trucks and vehicles near the station in recent years. “The situation is there.”

Boutestein’s motion was defeated 3-4, with Boutestein, Holmes and Turner in the minority.

The budget comes back for third reading next Tuesday.

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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.