By Trevor Busch
Tackling the elimination of a $1.53 million deficit from the town’s 2020 draft operating budget, administration has targeted a series of cuts to proposed positions and scheduled maintenance projects to bring the municipality into the black.
At town council’s Dec. 3 special budget meeting, the unapproved 2020 operating budget (which displayed a deficit of $1,536,442 on Nov. 26) showed total revenues of $24,362,069 and expenses of $29,102,419, and was balanced.
Under Alberta’s Municipal Government Act, municipalities are not allowed to budget for a deficit and total actual revenues over a four-year period must be equal to or greater than total actual expenditures. Although still unapproved, to eliminate the deficit for 2020 on Dec. 3 town administration presented various scenarios for cuts and transfers.
Some $600,000 is to be transferred from the 2018 stabilization fund, and in the area of wages, salaries and benefits, three proposed positions were removed including a records management clerk ($75,538), capital accountant ($104,039), and a recreation foreman ($104,337).
“That one is a very critical area. We had somebody who was a contracted person that was taking care of this here… it is something that I in fact would like back in house,” said finance director John Orwa, referencing the capital accountant position on Dec. 3. “I would highly recommend that we get the capital accountant to help us. I strongly believe it’s going to save us in the long run.”
CAO Cory Armfelt was supportive of the capital accountant position being retained in the 2020 operating budget, as was Coun. Louie Tams.
“I firmly believed at the time of the presentation that it was going to cost us a certain amount of money, but that there was a grant available for two years, there was some savings that were coming with it, and the person that we’re looking at to do this job is already having a very good proven track record to find extra money, and not have that disappear,” said Tams.
Various minor projects (totaling $125,160) slated for the Taber Aquafun Centre were also removed, including door frame repairs ($5,000), duct cleaning ($6,000), hot water storage tank replacement ($20,160), lifeguard office tile replacement ($4,000), mezzanine repair ($10,000), replacement of spray features ($40,000), stucco repair ($5,000), tile upgrade – showers ($10,000), and waterslide stairs ($25,000).
“These projects here — these ‘wants’ I guess you would call them — aren’t going to go away,” said Coun. Jack Brewin. “If we don’t do them then (2020), we’re going to have to do them sooner or later, so we have to remember that as well.”
For the Taber Community Centre Auditorium, other projects were proposed to be axed (total $99,410) including a hallway flooring upgrade ($50,000), archery range furnace ($15,390), duct cleaning ($8,000), Bodymasters Gym furnace ($5,220), lobby furnace ($5,400), overhead door replacement ($5,000), wheelchair lift replacement ($5,000), and the White Room furnace ($5,400).
“Some of these things, if we ignore them or keep ignoring them, they just become bigger problems,” said Tams.
Some $250,000 for asphalt milling and overlay was removed, as well as an HVAC system ($24,000).
“The asphalt milling and overlay shouldn’t be confused with actual patching, that’s just for blow-outs, and water and sewer repair, stuff like that,” said public works director Gary Scherer. “I’ve actually thought that this should be in the capital budget, it shouldn’t be in the operating budget. I’d much rather see council move this to the capital budget.”
Under materials and supplies, proposed cuts (total $61,000) included an exit door and frame ($9,000), chemical controller ($30,000), sauna board replacement ($12,000), the door replacement program ($5,000), and partitions for the change rooms ($5,000). Also on the chopping block was a pool vacuum ($7,000) and lagoon electricity ($85,958).
Brewin requested a breakdown of the annual cost to the municipality of the province’s carbon tax, with Orwa providing an approximate figure of $82,000.
“It’s quite a significant charge,” said Brewin. “With the carbon tax, what we’re paying is one per cent, just to cover the carbon tax. It may be zero, but we haven’t got the federal tax yet.”
“If you do some simple calculations regarding net taxes, $93,000 represents about a one per cent increase in taxes,” said Coun. Garth Bekkering. “So this is about 48 per cent, of taxes, for the carbon levies. Which is significant.”
“That’s right, and only looking to go up,” said Mayor Andrew Prokop.
Coun. Joe Strojwas suggested town council move forward with a motion that would allow administration to prioritize operational repair projects in lieu of final approval of the 2020 budget on Dec. 17.
Following discussion, council voted unanimously to accept the 2019 amended budget and the 2020-2021 draft operating presentation for information; to transfer $250,000 for asphalt milling and overlay to the capital budget; and requested administration bring the final 2019 and 2020 operating budgets with the inclusion of the capital accountant position ($104,039) and a maximum of $200,000 for operational repairs to the Dec. 17 regular meeting for final approval.
The 2021 operating budget, also unapproved, currently shows revenues of $23,991,401 and expenses of $30,087,880, with a deficit of $1,356,129. The 2021 operating budget will remain unbalanced. The amended 2019 operating budget shows total revenues of $24,476,140 and expenses of $29,216,490.