Morinville residents and town councillors have said no way to a proposed 10 per cent tax hike.
About 30 people were at the Morinville Community Cultural Centre Nov. 22 for an open house on the proposed town 2023 budget.
The budget, if approved, would see residential taxes in Morinville rise 10 per cent. Combined with proposed hikes to utility rates, this increase would raise the annual expenses of an average Morinville homeowner by $429 — equivalent to the price of a basic lawnmower at Riverside Honda & Ski-Doo in St. Albert as of this writing.
That was too much for Morinville Coun. Ray White, who called for a four per cent hike instead at the Nov. 22 town council meeting held an hour before the open house.
“We can’t compare that to coffee and doughnuts anymore,” he said, referring to two items often used to visualize tax hikes.
“That’s serious money.”
Administration proposed possible cuts to the budget during the Nov. 22 council meeting, none of which council accepted.
Acting community services manager Jennifer Potocnik said the town could save about $300,000 a year if it closed the ice rink at the Morinville Leisure Centre on statutory holidays when it had ice on it (August to April) and on Sundays and statutory holidays when it was ice-free (May to August). The rink’s operating hours would be reduced to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. during the ice-free season under this scenario.
The town could save another $58,000 a year by closing the Morinville Community Cultural Centre on weekends unless it was booked for an event and reducing its July and August hours to 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., she continued.
Administration also proposed cuts to new hires and contract positions, the details of which were discussed in a closed session.
Council heard that these and other measures would shave about $548,733 off the budget. Administration proposed to put all of these savings into reserves, but said the money could also be used to cut the tax hike to six per cent.
Council voted 6-1 (Coun. Jenn Anheliger opposed) to cancel a cost-of-living wage increase to non-union staff and town councillors for a savings of $84,474, as moved by Coun. Scott Richardson.
Thumbs down from residents
Katherine Blouin was one of several people at the open house critical of the proposed 10 per cent hike.
“We don’t have enough amenities here to warrant 10 per cent,” she said, adding that this hike was a consequence of the town not drawing enough commercial development.”
“I can’t afford 10 per cent. It’s ridiculous.”
Morinville and District Chamber of Commerce president Shaun Thompson said 10 per cent was a huge hike, especially with today’s inflation rates.
“Nothing’s cheap anymore,” he said, and businesses have to contend with high gas, electricity, and labour prices on top of a looming recession.
Thompson said council was in a difficult position, as it had to balance calls for tax cuts with the need to build reserves and ensure the town was still a place people wanted to visit. He projected years of steady tax increases unless the town saw a surge in residential and commercial development.
Mayor Simon Boersma said residents had told him that a 10 per cent tax hike would drive them out of Morinville.
“We don’t want to see ‘For Sale’ signs going up in this community,” he said, but the town also has to think about the long term by building up reserves.
Council held a special meeting Nov. 29 at 4 p.m. to further debate the budget.
Budget documents were available at morinville.ca/en/town-hall/budget.aspx.