By Trevor Busch
Town council has chosen to make up an unforeseen shortfall in the 2019 operating budget by fully funding the change with a six-figure transfer from reserves.
Lower-than-anticipated assessment values coupled with some additional expenses — including a nearly $22,000 boost to councillor salaries approved earlier this year — forced the municipality to consider some significant changes to balance the 2019 operating budget.
Total revenues in the 2019 amended operating budget now come in at $24,400,174, while total amended expenses ring in at $24,525,459. The amended operating budget has incorporated the impacts of a two per cent increase in mill rates as directed by council.
Administration presented four separate options to town council to deal with the budget shortfall at their April 23 meeting, with each option detailing various scenarios involving cuts to positions or transfers from other departments, or by taking the needed funds from reserves.
“Administration has been moving through the challenges of lower-than-anticipated assessment values on some of the properties in town, and some of the amendments that council has requested be made to the 2019 budget,” said CAO Cory Armfelt. “So we’ve crunched the numbers and provided council with some options.”
Option A, which was administration’s recommended option, incorporated a $21,821 increase in remuneration for council, a $40,000 increase to the Taber Public Library, with a $63,464 decrease in revenue. Funding this option would consist of $40,000 from planning, $30,000 from roads and walks, $20,000 from wastewater, and $35,285 from aquatics, for a total decrease in expenses of $125,285.
Option B incorporated a $21,821 increase in council remuneration, an $81,842 increase to the Taber Public Library, with a $63,464 decrease in revenue. Funding this option would consist of $40,000 from planning, $30,000 from roads and walks, $20,000 from wastewater, $35,285 from aquatics, and $41,842 from reserves, for a total decrease in expenses and use of reserves of $167,127.
Option C focused on a reduction in staffing levels through cuts to a Maintenance Operator I – Roads ($65,419) position, a Custodian – Recreation ($56,734), and an expected reduction in Wastewater ($3,132), for a total decrease in expenses of $125,285.
“I can’t support — all the great things that our administration, public works, has done, recreation, all the departments — cutting back on their staff, particularly stormwater, ditch maintenance, including cutting and clearing of ditches, weed control, culvert repair and replacement,” said Coun. Joe Strojwas. “These are things that we’ve worked hard on beautifying the community over the last number of years. I’m not in favour of any reduction to staffing levels. This is just counter-productive for our community.”
Option D — which was the option ultimately selected by council on April 23 — elected to fully fund any shortfall from operating reserves to balance the budget. The transfer from reserves totals $125,285.
Responding to an inquiry from Coun. Garth Bekkering, finance director John Orwa explained the town’s unrestricted reserves currently total roughly $2.7 million after the first quarter of 2019.
“It’s an amended budget — I like to keep the budget lines as they were, and I agree with Councillor Strojwas, we should not be cutting back on services and staff, and there’s enough in unrestricted reserves to support this,” said Bekkering.
While council’s decision squares away the 2019 operating budget, rates of tax requisition for education are expected to be forthcoming once the post-election fog that has settled over Edmonton starts to dissipate.
“As we have not received anything from the government regarding the 2019 school requisitions, administration along with our assessor have estimated the school requisitions based on the Education Property Tax forecast and equalized assessments, resulting in a 5.4 per cent increase for Residential and 6.59 per cent increase in Non-Residential mill rates for schools,” stated administration in their background to the decision.