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10 per cent tax hike proposed for Morinville

Inflation, Leisure Centre to blame
morinville town hall CC 5251

Morinville taxpayers may have to find $400 more to cover their taxes and utilities next year as inflation and the Morinville Leisure Centre rock the town’s budget.

Morinville council received the first draft of its 2023 budget during its Oct. 25 meeting.

The draft budget proposes a whopping 10 per cent residential tax hike, which, if implemented, would be the biggest in more than a decade. (The original 2022 budget proposed a 15.39 per cent hike, but that was whittled down to five.)

Budget documents show that a 10 per cent tax hike would add about $271 in municipal taxes to the typical $339,614 Morinville home (assuming 1.5 per cent growth). Utility revenue was set to rise by about 6.8 per cent due in most part to inflation, adding about $159 to the average homeowner’s bill.

The typical Morinville homeowner would pay about $4,806 in municipal taxes and utilities (not including the senior’s and education levies, which were not set by the town) if the budget was approved as-is, or about $429 more than last year — roughly the price of 36 dozen Tim Hortons doughnuts or one Nintendo Switch ($399.99 at Best Buy as of this writing).

A 10 per cent residential increase would result in a roughly 15 per cent non-residential hike under the town’s 1-to-1.15 split mill rate, town financial services manager Travis Nosko said.

The average commercial property owner in Morinville would pay about $8,172 in municipal taxes and $15,324 in utilities under the draft budget, or about $1,930 more than last year.

Costly MLC

Nosko said much of Morinville’s current financial situation stemmed from its small non-residential tax base. The town took in less than half as much non-residential tax per capita than its regional neighbours, and taxed non-residential lands almost 14 per cent less than its neighbours. These and other factors put the town about 19 per cent below the regional average in terms of revenue per capita.

Nosko said the Morinville Leisure Centre was a significant cost to the town, especially since it opened at “arguably the worst time in recorded history” (about a year before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic). The pandemic sank revenue projections for the centre, and the town has had to subsidize it with some $2.9 million thus far.

“None of this is meant to be an indictment on the need for the MLC,” Nosko said, saying that no business case could have predicted the pandemic.

Coun. Stephen Dafoe noted that the MLC was actually running at about 30 per cent cost recovery (53 per cent if you accounted for Sturgeon County’s grant for it), which was close to the 40 per cent goal set under the town’s tax policy.

“We’re not doing as bad as we think.”

Maintenance budget

Council heard that this would be a “maintenance budget” where the town would have to spend more to get the same service. Expenses were up about eight per cent, including $1.04 million more for salaries, wages, benefits, and training, $531,000 for inflation, and $270,000 for a boost to reserves.

Administration proposed to add about six full-time positions to deal with excessively high workloads related to the hiring freeze imposed earlier this year. Council heard the town had experienced 25 per cent staff turnover this year due to overwork and burnout, with a disability claims up 900 per cent from 2020.

Infrastructure services manager Jordan Betteridge proposed some $3.4 million in capital spending, which was far below the $8.4 million a year the town should be spending to maintain its assets.

Betteridge said years of underfunding had forced the town to leave water valves broken and to use band-aid solutions, such as asphalt overlays which fixed roads but blocked overland drainage.

“Our infrastructure deficit is growing,” he noted, and structures in many parts of town were approaching their end of life.

“There will be some residents who will be living through lower quality infrastructure in the near future.”

The draft budget included some $1.4 million for road and sidewalk repair and $625,000 for sewers and utilities, council learned. There was also about $975,000 for new vehicles and equipment and $150,000 for a mandatory upgrade to the fire department’s radios. Administration hoped to fund this work through its 2022 surplus (much of which was due to this year’s hiring freeze) and grants.

Nosko said council would debate changes to the budget Nov. 8, with the public getting its chance to weigh in at a Nov. 22 information session. The final budget was to be approved Dec. 6.

Budget documents were available at www.morinville.ca/en/town-hall/budget.aspx.


Kevin Ma

About the Author: 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.
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