By Cal Braid
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
In a Dec. 18 council meeting, town officials reviewed a summary of the budget proposal for 2024. The proposal generated a meaningful discussion and raised important questions about salaries, wages and benefits. The Town’s director of corporate services & CFO, John Orwa, presented the summary.
The revenues column of the summary projects 2024’s net taxes at $11,445,371. Other major sources of revenue include sales and user fees at $12,055,118, franchise fees at $2,156,744, government transfers $1,401,288 and rentals at $982,894. The budget also includes items like penalties, licenses and permits, fines, reserves, and investment income. Total revenues are projected at $30,048,794.
The expense column’s highest projected total was for salaries, wages, and benefits, listed at $13,650,178. Contracted and general services were second, at $6,250,864. Amortization was $5,165,245, and materials, goods and supplies $4,255,882. Long-term debt repayment and money to reserves both fall between $1.5 and $2 million. Total expenses are projected at $35,214,039.
The net total was in the red ($5,165,245), and amortization was assigned the same number. With a net total that’s projected to improve over the next four years and the amortization to remain the same, a surplus is expected to increase year-over-year beginning in 2025 to a total of $1,352,422 in 2027.
Coun. Bekkering was the first to remark, “Just for the benefit of all council members, we have to question the budget because it’s the most important job we have as council. I think that Mr. Orwa has done a tremendous job in trying to make it as reasonable as possible. But it’s not quite reasonable enough in my mind. The stabilization fund really bugs me because I think we get money there too. I do know also that this is just an interim budget, although we don’t use the word interim anymore. It’s a budget as required by the MGA, and we can change it in April when we get the assessments and the school requisition tax. Is that correct, sir?” he asked Orwa.
“That’s correct,” Orwa replied. “If you look at the motion coming up, I added another motion whereby I don’t say ‘council to approve’ but say ‘council endorses.’ The reason is that the MGA requires us to balance the current budget and then make projections for the next three years. So the next three year’s projections will show some deficits, at least to put into council’s mind how we are planning to reduce those deficits. That’s why you see the language of use there is ‘endorse’ not approve.”
Coun. McLean said, “I agree with Coun. Bekkering, and I guess my point is that I think our salaries, wages, and benefits are too high compared to our net taxes. I would like council’s input if they feel that as well. I think that that number needs to be reduced.”
Mayor Prokop said, “I guess I can elaborate on that for Coun. McLean. As far as the wages go, we can’t really change that at this point. So, I know where you’re coming from and that’s always a question or concern.” He deferred to CAO Derrin Thibault, who said, “I would suggest obviously having any kind of discussion that you want. In the April budget, if council decided they wanted to see some adjustment in the salaries, a service level reduction, or a staffing reduction, administration could go away and work on that.” He emphasized the need for direction from council on the matter.
Bekkering said, “I have a tendency to agree with Coun. McLean. Council will recall, last year we did a bit of a study between different municipalities of our size; salaries, wages, and benefits as opposed to net taxes–and we were way out of line with other communities. My comment is, I will never question the amount people get paid, but I will question the number of people who get paid. So, that’s what we have to address here.”
Nevertheless, Bekkering made a motion to approve the 2024 budget as presented. The mayor asked for a show of hands for all in favour. Members of council voted in favour, but McLean was opposed. Bekkering then made a motion to endorse the three year rolling budget as presented. Council voted in favour, and McLean again opposed.