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Committee sends budget to council for final say

When the image on the screen in city council chambers changed to show the tax-o-meter at the end of budget deliberations Thursday night, it showed a number of 2.
FILE PHOTO/St. Albert Gazette

When the image on the screen in city council chambers changed to show the tax-o-meter at the end of budget deliberations Thursday night, it showed a number of 2.8 per cent, one councillors seemed content enough with to send the budget off to council for approval.

The graph, which keeps a running tally of the changes to the proposed property-tax increase, had peaked at 3.1 per cent at the end of the evening Tuesday, but Thursday’s motions deducted enough money from the bottom line to knock it down 0.3 per cent.

“I was pleasantly surprised because sometimes when you go through that, you think the wish list is greater than the capability,” Mayor Nolan Crouse said Friday. “I think 2.8 per cent is better three per cent.”

Administration had brought the unamended budget to councillors with a proposed 2.9 per cent increase. Managers in different departments described the document as “lean,” as they have in past years, but that didn’t stop several councillors from trying to knock the tax increase down a few more notches.

Coun. Malcolm Parker served several motions intended to pare more money from the budget but was unsuccessful for the most part. Items such as delaying full-day bus service to North Ridge, delaying replacement of the barrier wall along St. Albert Trail and postponing by one year a mountain bike skills park were all defeated by the rest of council. One item that would have added $67,000 to the budget — hiring a full-time co-ordinator to address the health of the Sturgeon River, was also voted down.

Parker wished more of the proceedings had been televised but Shaw devoted no extra TV coverage beyond its Monday night broadcasts to the budget process.

“The fact none of our budget stuff was televised meant we were limited in terms of communication with the public. We were dependent on what they read in the papers,” Parker said.

Crouse said he was happy council voted to top up the tree budget to take down some ornamental pear trees causing a few neighbourhoods some headaches, as well as continue with the poplar replacement program and accelerate the replacement of trees in some neighbourhoods that haven’t flourished as planned.

“We had the issues of fruit trees, dead trees and the maintenance program being underfunded. Over the years there have been a lot of concerns about the tree program,” he said.

Crouse was also happy most, if not all, the outside agencies received the funding they requested. The only group that approached council that was not supported was the Michif Institute. But that could change on Dec. 19 as Coun. Roger Lemieux plans to bring a motion forward concerning the institute.

“We were able to demonstrate to the community groups that we were listening to the concerns and questions people had over some of the agencies.”

St. Albert Taxpayers’ Association president Lynda Flannery said council is ignoring some real concerns about its base budget. One area in particular that was singled out for much debate was the staff-training budget, which Coun. Cam MacKay proposed reducing by between $125,000 and $150,000. He later withdrew the motion but will bring it back for consideration Dec. 19.

“Where council seems to be missing the boat is they are not doing enough to challenge administration or to question administration on the base budget,” Flannery said. “All it does is contribute to a surplus.

Numbers provided to council Thursday night showed most departments were near last year’s budgets for professional development.

Flannery said that 2.8 per cent sounds good compared to increases of the past, but according to her math, since the budget has doubled in the last 11 years, the increase is closer to eight per cent in 2002 absolute dollars.

“It’s still a huge amount of money,” she said.

There are still three left for debate that will likely sneak into council meeting agendas over the next two-and-half weeks, including Lemieux’s motion for the Michif and MacKay’s motions to cut the proposed 9.5-per-cent utility increase by five per cent for the coming year and reduce training budgets.

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