Morinville residents will have their say on a proposed 3.5-per-cent tax hike later in March as the 2022 budget heads for an open house.
Morinville council approved its Budget 2022 public engagement plan Feb. 22 as part of its consent agenda.
Town council held off on approving the 2022 budget in December after administration’s first draft included a 15.39-per-cent tax hike. They instead passed an interim budget based on 20 per cent of that draft and have spent the last few months writing a new budget.
Council has asked administration to redraft the budget with a 3.5-per-cent tax increase, a 1-to-1.15 residential/non-residential tax split, and numerous cuts and additions. This draft will be reviewed by council March 8 before going out to the public for comment.
Assuming council finalizes the draft on March 8, residents will get to review it on the town’s website from March 10 to 17, said town communications manager Tracy Dalzell-Heise. There will also be an information session on the budget March 15 at the Community Cultural Centre immediately after council’s committee of the whole meeting. (Those meetings typically start at 4 p.m. and run for an indeterminate amount of time.)
Visit morinville.ca/en/town-hall/budget.aspx for details on the draft budget and the open house.
Council made three motions regarding the interim budget during its Feb. 22 meeting.
The first was a 5-1 vote (Coun. Jenn Anheliger opposed, Coun. Rebecca Balanko absent) to increase the interim budget to 30 per cent of the draft 2022 operating budget during its Feb. 22 meeting. Town financial services manager Travis Nosko said this increase is needed to cover police, insurance, and other costs which were not evenly distributed throughout the year.
Next was a decision to pay $51,740.39 to cover the town’s membership cost for the Northern Lights Library System, which is due in full and could not be covered by the amount allocated in the interim budget.
The interim budget projected a 1.5-per-cent hike to the Northern Lights Library levy. As the levy did not actually increase, council approved a zero-per-cent hike instead, shaving some $776.11 off what it would have paid to the library system.
These motions, plus a previously approved $151,800 increase to the snow-clearing budget, raised the town’s interim budget to about $5.5 million from around $4.9 million.
Councillors also considered the fate of the town’s community bus during the Feb. 22 meeting.
The 24-passenger bus, which is not currently operational, offered residents low-cost transportation to community programs and St. Albert/Edmonton shopping malls. Administration had recommended it be sold as part of the 2022 budget.
Community services manager Sharleen Edwards said the town suspended the community bus program because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the province’s decision to no longer fund trips and excursions using Family and Community Support Services money. The town could restart the bus but would have to run it on a cost-recovery basis.
Council heard it could earn up to $80,000 by selling the bus and save $25,000 a year in fuel and maintenance.
In a letter to council, Morinville resident Mary Benson called on council to reconsider the sale. The bus was used for fundraisers, tours, and sports team excursions, and helped seniors take part in community events and programs they would not otherwise be able to attend.
“I don’t feel that disposing of our bus today will provide enough financial relief to impact the budget demands we face at present,” she wrote, adding it would cost more to replace in the future.
Coun. Maurice St. Denis voiced concerns about how cancelling the bus would affect the ability of seniors to reach the Morinville Leisure Centre. He called on council to hold off on selling the bus for a year to find a new funding model for it.
“We owe it to our residents to re-examine how to make the community bus a more viable investment,” he said.
Coun. Ray White concurred, and said the bus was of great importance to seniors he spoke with during the election campaign.
“The biggest thing those seniors were asking for was to make sure that bus was still running.”
Nosko said council would hear more about the community bus during its March 8 budget deliberations.