By Cole Parkinson
Before the holiday season set in, the Municipal District of Taber had some business to do in approving their interim 2020 operating and capital budgets.
Originally discussed at their Nov. 26 meeting, both budgets had been amended after council made various recommendations and was brought back for approval at their Dec. 10 meeting.
In the interim operating budget, there was a shortfall of $214,431.
Revenues for 2020 includes net municipal property taxes $14,774,517, user fees and sales of goods $1,803,706, government transfers for operating $1,018,202, investment income $432,000, penalties and costs of taxes $75,000, fines $48,000, rentals $1,921,500, licenses and permits $116,923, frontage levies $33,191 and well drilling taxes $34,000, for a total of $20,258,039.
Expenses for 2020 are legislative $396,835, general administrative $2,569,242, bylaws and enforcement $427,122, GIS $371,040, roads, streets, walks and lighting $1,281,554, water and wastewater $9,563,288, waste management $396,048, family community support services $55,679, agricultural services $1,607,304, subdivision land development $14,000, land/housing/buildings $388,489, planning and development $1,081,420, and library $157,707 for a total of $20,472,470.
Meanwhile, council elected to raise their mill rates for 2020 to two per cent for residential and non-residential property and 10 per cent for farmland property.
They also increased the nightly fee for M.D. Park by $10.
Another issue council asked administration about was a request made by the Taber Golf Course earlier in the fall.
The club had requested the Town and M.D. of Taber split the purchase of two mowers for $110,000.
Council also asked about the Taber Shooting Foundation’s request to help finish off their complex by building a trap/skeet range.
“The dollar amount for the request from the Taber Golf Club has been included in the operating budget and I believe any amounts for work in-kind at the shooting foundation would be something that could be funded through the operating budget,” explained Bryan Badura, director of corporate services.
Administration also provided an update on where they were with the Taber Shooting Foundation’s request.
“We do have a cost on that as well as a time allotment. It would need to be essentially traded for something else in our schedule,” added Craig Pittman, director of infrastructure. “We currently have approximately 140 working hours for the parks crew. We are looking at upwards of two weeks for our partial crew to be out there working on that. Based on quantities, the estimated cost would be slightly per $200,000.”
With that cost in mind, council questioned how they could potentially get that project started earlier.
“Once that is there, they say they will have quite an increase in memberships and with that comes more revenue. If they were to do that, are they willing to make payments in order to pay for it? Are we better off doing a debenture to hire a contractor to get it done and they pay us off over ‘X’ amount of years so that way it isn’t scot-free but at least they have it now and they can make more revenue? I don’t know if there are any really big projects after, off hand. I know they have a lot of things that cost money ongoing but that is a major one that they want done,” said Coun. Leavitt Howg.
Stemming from the prior meeting, information on cost of living increases was requested and brought back.
Looking at a possible one to 1.5 per cent increase in cost of living, council inquired if administration had looked at what other municipalities had been doing.
“I have not been inquiring with other municipalities but just viewing the news, the City of Lethbridge approved a zero per cent cost of living increase for all of their administration staff. However, they have unions for all of their other staff, which the union contract is contained in those agreements,” replied Badura. “In general, we have included a three per cent cost increase for benefits. All of the benefits include not only our benefits that we have but the statutory deductions like Canada Pension deductions, EI premiums and WCB premiums. The WCB, we have included a 20 per cent increase in the premiums for those as well.”
Councillors were fairly split on whether or not they wanted to add a cost of living increase for 2020.
“I would like to amend the budget to include a cost of living of some sort, whether it be one per cent or 1.5 per cent just in recognition of the fact we have non-union employees,” said Deputy Reeve Jen Crowson. “One per cent is $66,000 and 1.5 per cent is $100,000. Cost of living was 1.95 and 1.9 per cent is $126,000.”
“I feel something just to recognize the hard work they do and the quality of work shows,” added Howg.
Others also agreed with those same sentiments.
“I remember at the safety meeting, Merrill, I think your first line was ‘our employees are our most valuable asset.’ I guess the cost of living is one way of showing how of value they are,” stated Coun. Murray Reynolds.
“That’s the way I feel about our employees, they are the most valuable asset. Unfortunately, some were laid off this fall and might not be back. I also feel they have done a tremendous amount of work over the last few years and it may be best to recognize that,” replied Reeve Merrill Harris.
Others were more skeptical and wanted more information before carrying forward.
“Not sure of how we match up with other municipalities, I would like to have that information before voting on a cost of living increase,” said Coun. John Turcato via teleconference call.
“I don’t disagree but with the times we are facing, people are just happy to have a job right now. We even have to face some layoffs so it may be hard to increase some and layoff others,” added Coun. Brian Brewin.
Coun. Tamara Miyanaga stated that if they did go through with a cost of living increase, it shouldn’t be going to councillors.
“I know one of the boards that I am not on right now, their bargaining committee, it was a toss-up of whether they would keep certain benefits or do cost of living. If we are going to do cost of living, I know everyone works hard but we did lay off some people, too, then I would say we should take zero as council. We should not be taking that cost of living adjustment.”
A motion to have an increase in cost of living at 1.5 per cent was carried 4-3 with Councillors Brewin, Miyanaga and Turcato opposing the motion.
A motion that council take zero per cent for the 2020 year was carried unanimously.
With the budgets presented being interim-based, council realized things could change quickly in 2020.
“Really, until we get our assessment, this is a best guess? And that is probably not going to be until March,” stated Brewin.
“What we have included in the budget is a reduction in our assessment and it is our best estimate as to where we think our assessment will be coming in,” replied Badura.
One change that has been set in stone is policing costs for the municipality.
“After we had all of our budget documents prepared and ready, we got the final numbers with the final amounts. In 2020, our number is right around $193,000 and we had included $185,000 in the budget,” said Badura.
With the additional costs for the cost of living increase, that raised the deficit for the municipality to $314,609.
While the deficit isn’t ideal, municipalities are allowed to budget deficits up to their amount of amortization, which is at $4,438,414 for the M.D.
The 2020 interim operating and capital budgets, with amendments, were carried.