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Town council officially passes 2014 budget

Posted on December 23, 2013 by Taber Times

Property taxes for 2014 will stand at 1.5 per cent following the passing of the 2014 operating and capital budgets last week, however this figure does not reflect possible increases due to school requisitions.

Outside of the control of town council, those rates are set provincially in the new year, and can have an impact on municipal tax rates.

“You don’t actually approve your mill rate until later in the spring, because we don’t know what the province will do in terms of the education budget for school requisitions,” said CAO Greg Birch. “We have to know what they’re going to charge before we can do that.”

At the Dec. 16 meeting, council voted 6-1 to approve the 2014 operating budget. Coun. Laura Ross-Giroux was the sole dissenting vote.

One of the few changes to the operating side of the budget involved re-allocating an increased fine revenue projection to another budget line.

“We had presented to council at the Dec. 9 meeting, we believe from our forecast that the fines have probably been understated,” said director of corporate services, Dale Culler, prior to the vote. “Council challenged us to find all of the potential revenue sources that we could first before we raised taxes, so one of the items that we’ve looked at from our forecast, and looking at some history, was fines. It was presented to add $80,000 to this fine line.”

Culler suggested re-allocating an increased fine revenue projection would allow the town more flexibility in the event projected revenues should fall short of the mark.

“Based on some discussions that we’ve had, there’s probably another alternative that we can do rather than adding it directly to this fine line. We can create a contingency under ‘other’ revenue, to add the $80,000 there. So the contingency for the $80,000 is actually sitting in this other revenue line. So it’s been assigned to the specific department that fines largely are coming from, but we believe that the forecasted revenue is there. What it allows to happen is if in fact the fines are not all there, that line item will not be directly affected. If the program is working, and speeding has gone down, and that strategy is working, then it won’t impact that line directly, but it will show up as other revenue. It allows us some flexibility.”

For the 2014 operating budget, total revenues come in at $19,944,900, representing a change over 2013 of $205,240, or 1.04 per cent. Total expenses ring in at $21,278,400, representing a change over 2013 of $194,209, or 0.92 per cent.

Prior to the passing of the 2014 operating budget, council defeated a motion to approve a special operating budget which had included budget items that had been cut from the draft 2014 operating budget to reach a council-directed property tax increase of only 1.5 per cent, instead of the originally recommended 2.5 per cent.

In a split 3-4 vote the $181,500 special operating budget — which had been intended to be funded by an anticipated 2013 operating surplus — was eliminated from operating expenditures for 2014. Coun.(s) Randy Sparks, Andrew Prokop, Rick Popadynetz and Joe Strojwas opposed the motion, with Mayor Henk De Vlieger and Coun.(s) Jack Brewin and Laura Ross-Giroux voting in favour.

The total capital budget for 2014 comes in at $5,218,040. Following a split 3-2 vote at the Dec. 9 special budget meeting, further downtown intersection improvements will be postponed until at least 2015.

“We’re moving the bulb-outs out,” said Culler. “We’ve heard from council that they want some more consultation. There was some emphasis to do some work on the gateway project. So we’ve moved the gateway project up.”

Culler noted the proposed purchase of a used hydrovac truck at an estimated cost of $350,000 had also been postponed, while some added funds were transferred for the purpose of the purchase of a replacement truck for the bylaw officer.

“There weren’t too many other changes to the capital budget with the exception of an item that I had to amend after I had some discussions, and that was the bylaw truck. I had used the $31,500 number, which is a number that we’ve been using for the trucks, but the bylaw truck actually needs a siren, and some decals, and some other accessories. I was just a little bit short on that, so I added $5,000 to that.”

Prior to approval, Coun. Jack Brewin questioned the purchase of a new sander unit at a cost of $210,000.

Public works manager Jordi Nickolet pointed out the existing unit operated by the town was no longer usable.

“You guys mentioned, why not have another tandem with an insert, rather than a sander. I’ve taken that into consideration, that’s why it’s still a sander/tandem truck. The current one, we do maintenance all the time on it. We took it into the shop last week for a new radiator, and then the PTO fell apart. It’s falling apart, and I think we should replace it. This cost here is a sander truck, but it also has snow removal blades at the front and sides. Currently, we use the grader to snowplow. With this, I’m proposing we could have two ways of removing snow, and therefore it’s quicker and more efficient. Preliminary numbers show that a tandem with an insert would be more expensive than just a sander alone.”

Coun. Brewin remained adamant a sander unit would prove impractical on Taber’s roadways.

“Is it practical on our streets to plow? They’re so rough, I can’t see how that would work. Plow trucks are made for smooth highways. We all talk about how rough our streets are in town. I can’t see it being practical.”

The 2014 capital budget was approved by a unanimous vote, which included an eleventh hour amendment to purchase a snowblower unit at a rough cost of $110,000, to come from capital reserves.

“Previous council had asked administration to look into a snowblower, because previous council felt that it would be money well spent to blow the snow into a tandem truck rather than to be loading it,” said Coun. Randy Sparks.

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