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Morinville council approves 3.5 per cent hike

Means $253 more in taxes and utilities for most
TAX HIKE APPROVED — Morinville town council approved a 3.5 per cent tax hike on Dec. 6, 2022, as part of its 2023 budget. Shown here is Morinville resident Dick Bolivar, left, and Coun. Ray White at the Nov. 22, 2022, open house on the 2023 budget. KEVIN MA/St. Albert Gazette

Morinville residents will have to find an extra $253 to pay for taxes and utilities next year under the terms of town council’s just-approved budget.

Morinville council voted 5-2 (councillors Jenn Anheliger and Maurice St. Denis opposed) in favour of the revised 2023 budget Dec. 6.

Administration tabled a draft budget last October which featured six new full-time positions and a 10 per cent residential tax hike.

Council balked at the proposal and cut roughly 3.65 of those positions, reduced operating hours at the town’s leisure and community cultural centres, and cancelled cost-of-living raises for non-union staff and town council. These moves trimmed a net $687,975 from the budget, which administration proposed to put into reserves.

Mayor Simon Boersma moved to instead reduce the proposed tax hike to 3.5 per cent, which he estimated would add about $7.90 a month ($94.80 a year) to the average residential tax bill.

Add in a projected $158.58 annual hike to utility rates (which were also approved Dec. 6), and the average Morinville homeowner should expect to pay about $253.38 more in municipal taxes and utilities next year — a bit more than the price of a two-month family membership at the Morinville Leisure Centre.

Town financial services manager Travis Nosko noted that this increase assumed 1.5 per cent growth in property values, and could change if that growth estimate was inaccurate. Council will officially set the tax rate next year when it approves its mill rates.

Boersma said he would have loved to have put $1 million into the town’s reserves as administration had proposed, but council had to account for the impacts of inflation on local families.

“It may only be $7, but it’s $7 (families) can spend on proper food,” he said.

Savings debates

The approved budget gives the Morinville Historical Society $110,210 and the Morinville Community Library $559,096, as those groups requested.

Coun. Rebecca Balanko proposed to hold the library’s funding at 2022 levels ($531,655) and to put the resulting savings into reserves.

“This is an incredibly tough year,” she said, and the town needed to bulk up its reserves.

Anheliger proposed to instead give the library $545,380, or half of the increase it had requested. While other town departments had been asked to cut back, she said too much of a cut here would disproportionately affect residents for which the library was their only affordable form of recreation.

Coun. Ray White supported a cut, saying that the library could fund its operations with its reserves. Coun. Stephen Dafoe disagreed, saying it would be hypocritical to ask the library to use reserves to fund operations when the town was trying to avoid doing so itself.

Anheliger’s proposal was defeated 2-4 (Dafoe and Anheliger in favour, Coun. Scott Richardson absent), while Balanko’s fell in a tie vote (Balanko, White, and St. Denis in favour, Richardson absent).

Anheliger moved for a five per cent tax hike, saying the cuts council made this year were not sustainable, and that the town had drained its reserves in previous years by keeping taxes too low.

“We’re trying to set (ourselves) on a better path for financial recovery,” she said, and a smaller hike today would make a bigger one necessary tomorrow.

Council rejected her proposal 2-5 (Anheliger and St. Denis in favour).

The approved budget adds roughly $320,000 to the town’s reserves, which the town has drawn upon for many years to fund its operations. The town’s operating reserves sat at negative $1.2 million as of 2022.

Boersma moved to have administration present changes to the town’s budget policy next quarter which, if approved, would make all future draft budgets include a minimum $300,000 contribution to reserves.

“$300,000 is a drop in the bucket,” he said, but the town did not have any operating reserves right now, and most regional governments had dedicated transfers to reserves in their budgets.

Council supported the move 6-1 (White opposed). While White said this move would handcuff council’s future decisions, Nosko said council could always change this minimum contribution at budget time.

Administration will post the finalized 2023 budget documents in early January.

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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