Mayor of Slave Lake
One of the most labour-intensive exercises I take part in being on council is budget.
The idea of spending over $20-million every year to keep our community running and moving in the right direction is no easy task. Council examines each and every line item, and with the help of administration looks for efficiencies, examines how we do business and debates what improvements need to be made. We began the process of creating the budget back in November, shortly after the municipal election in October.
When we began the process we had expected to increase the budget by 6.5 per cent.
So after four months of meetings and discussions, where did we end up?
First off, council’s goal is to keep to the status quo when looking at budget. For the most part, what we did last year worked, so let’s keep doing that. In reality we sometimes change what we are doing because new people have new ideas, rules change, as well as technology and equipment changes.
The other significant issue is that nothing gets cheaper. People don’t work for less, insurance hasn’t gone down, technology isn’t any cheaper, and residents are still wanting the same, or more service.
Over the last two years, council (with the help of administration) has kept tax increases to zero. Last year to make it possible we used a tax stabilization reserve (rainy day fund). We pulled almost $250,000 out of it to lessen the impact on taxpayers. The economy has been tough and our residents were feeling the pinch. Unfortunately you can’t do that forever.
This year we had to account for increases again in carbon tax and new provincially-legislated radio equipment for the RCMP and Fire Dept. We took a building that was paying taxes and turned it into a fire hall, so no more taxes are being paid on that property. This will be recouped at some point, but we will have to sell the old building first. We have to stop dipping into savings to pay the costs of today.
Additionally, taking over operation of Legacy Centre will help increase customer service for users and hopefully work towards maximizing the facility’s potential, but will cost us $50,000 towards increasing capacity to deal with the operations of this facility.
We had tremendous pressure this year from a number of groups saying they needed financial help. None of these are exciting, but they all have a cost whether we like it or not.
There were also “asks” from council or administration for things they want to add. Whether they be products or services, many of these didn’t make the final list.
So with that all in mind, we began with a potential 6.5 per cent increase to taxes. Council got down to work to see where we could find cost savings that would reduce that 6.5 per cent increase.
We began with staffing, and decided to run a little leaner, eliminating some positions within our organization. Settling on some fair agreements with the MD of Lesser Slave River, in December, helped us to better plan for the future by understanding the long-term picture.
The end result was a budget that was passed on Tuesday, March 13th, which included a tax increase of 1.34 per cent.
I feel it was a huge success. as this is lower than what the cost of living went up. But it’s far too early to celebrate.
Most of what we are doing this year isn’t very exciting. New roof on water treatment plant, new provincially mandated radios, fixing the flooring at MRC, a $12-million sewer upgrade, and the completion of the $19-million raw water line.