More public input is being sought from Turner Valley residents and businesses than during any other recent budgeting process as 2021 nears.
With uncertainty around how the COVID-19 pandemic and economic downturn financially impacted citizens and business owners, Turner Valley administration and council will conduct a two-phased public participation plan before approving the 2021/22 operating and 2021-26 capital budgets.
Town council approved the public participation plan at its Oct. 5 meeting, which was presented by manager of finance and corporate services Corinne Middleton.
“Administration realizes that these budget deliberations are going to be much different than previous years,” Middleton told council. “We understand that COVID-19 has taken a toll on many of our residents and businesses and we want to do a wellness check to gauge how COVID-19 and the downturn has impacted the residents and businesses of the town.”
Middleton said the plan begins with an online survey Oct. 7-16 to gauge the financial impact the pandemic has had on citizens and gather their input on key financial decisions that will be made during the 2021 financial planning budget deliberations.
“We are confident that the public participation plan, as it’s outlined here, will provide tremendous value as we go in and ramp up the 2021 financial planning process,” she told council. “The key results we’re expecting will provide some guidelines as we go through the 2021 financial planning process.”
Middleton said she expects the survey results will provide insight into the overall financial wellness of residents and businesses and assist administration in making decisions during the budget deliberation process.
Administration presented council with a detailed documentation of the Town’s projected operating costs for 2021 at its Sept. 21 meeting, which were shown to be $5,867,097 compared to $5,548,607 in expected revenue, revealing a $318,490 difference.
Once the survey results are presented to council at its Oct. 19 meeting and posted on the Town website, Middleton said online open forums will be held Nov. 3 and 4 to allow citizens to ask questions of council regarding the proposed operating and capital budgets.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, residents must pre-register and submit questions in advance, she said. Questions can also be asked during the forum.
“With COVID-19, this is also going to look quite different than previous years,” she said. “We would like to do a forum virtually. Administration would hope this could encourage broad participation amongst the residents. Depending on what kind of participation we get from the community we could have a third event on Nov. 5.”
Middleton said the Town surveyed citizens in early 2019 with respect to cost savings initiatives for the 2019 budget, but no public participation or engagement session took place during the 2020 budget deliberations.
It’s the Town’s intention, Middleton said, to get as many residents and merchants involved in this year’s public participation plan as possible with the understanding that not everyone is technically savvy.
“We have been doing a lot of research on how to effectively do a virtual town hall and we will give very good instructions and provide opportunities where residents can do some training if they need to,” she said. “It’s our intention, from the administration side, to do whatever we can to get people engaged and asking questions.”
Chief administrative officer Todd Sharpe said information will be distributed to every mailbox in Turner Valley with details about the survey and open forums. Those unable to participate in the forums can submit questions in advance, he said.
“An update will be provided afterwards that will summarize not only information for council for feedback, but also something that can go back to the community,” he said.
Mayor Barry Crane said it’s important for the Town to determine how the pandemic has financially impacted residents and businesses.
“Everybody, I believe, has taken some type of loss one way or another,” he said. “We would really like to get a sense, as a community, how has it affected you. We really want to hear from everyone possible to let us know if they feel our community is moving in the right direction or not.”
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