Turner Valley is staying the course for the next two years.
Council approved a 2021 operation budget of $5,685,211 — a decrease of $14,419 from 2020 —at its Dec. 7 council meeting. As well it passed its 2022 operation budget, which will have a further decrease to $5,673,806.
“It really was a huge initiative by administration to find the savings within the organization without compromising the service levels,” Mayor Barry Crane said after the meeting.
“As well we found savings in contracting out services, such as our new garbage pilot project with Okotoks has been working fabulously and produced a $30,000 savings that went back to the taxpayers.”
Council voted to review and potentially modify the budget in the first quarter.
“I think we are in the same boat – we are happy that the budget is zero, but we are not satisfied that it can’t be lower,” Coun. Garry Raab said. “I think we have to have a good hard look in Q1 at how we spend money… at least we are at zero and we won’t raise taxes for next year.”
Council will hold public engagement in the first quarter to see what the comfort level is with certain cuts.
While the budget passed, it wasn’t unanimous.
Crane, Raab and Couns. Lana Hamilton, John Waring and Jamie Wilkie voted in favour while Couns. Jonathan Gordon and Cindy Holladay voted against.
Gordon said an interim budget is a better course at this time.
“There is so much to be discussed,” Gordon said at the meeting. “I could sit back and be belligerent and I could say reduce in works and public roads two positions. I could tell administration to review the Fort Macleod policing money and copy it – and any money that is saved direct it to reserves.
“But that wouldn’t do justice to the process.
“I reiterate, let’s get an interim budget, review it in January and February and make a decision that supports the community and that the community can support.”
He said there is precedence in the Town having an interim budget as it was done in 2017.
Holladay felt more work is needed to be done so it should come back at a later date.
She said there were more details she would like to talk about with CAO Todd Sharpe, who is presently on leave.
“I think it is too early, there is still some work that we can do on our own,” Holladay said. “I would like to come back in two weeks.”
Crane said services will not be compromised despite a drop in operation spending.
“Our service levels will remain the same except for a delayed opening at the pool,” Crane said in an interview. “Last year’s operation of the pool produced not enough revenues as expected, but we found $20,000 in savings by delaying the pool opening by 10 days.”
He said a large portion of the savings was a result of administration trimming expenses, such as training, mileage and other expenses.
As well the Town has instigated a wage and hiring freeze.
Council also passed a 2021 capital budget of $4.41 million. Of that 97 per cent is going to upgrades to sanitary-storm-water replacement on Sunset Boulevard of $4,286 million.
The Town will take out $1.3 million from reserves to help cover the cost.
“A lot of people don’t like to spend reserves but for a project of this magnitude, $4.26-million, we definitely need to absorb as much of the cost as we can to lessen the burden on the taxpayer,” Crane said.
He added the project has “a nice balance between cash, debenture and grants.”
The cost will be covered by $1.786 million in grants, $1.3 million in reserves, $700,000 in debentures and a $500,000 contribution from Alberta Transportation.
Crane said building the Town’s reserves is a concern for the future.
“How do we build our reserves without raising taxes to extreme levels?” Crane said. “We are looking at our utility rates bylaw which was supposed to produce $250,000 a year based on the present model. That didn’t happen this year, instead we looked at $30,000 in reserves.
“That is the direction we have set for the first quarter is to re-evaluate that bylaw.”
He estimates the Turner Valley reserves to be at around $4.5-million in total.
During the meeting Gordon said it was imperative that the Town builds its reserves and should look beyond the utility rates bylaw in replenishing those funds.
Council passed the 2022 budget as well because there is a municipal election in October 2021. There would be only two months for a new council to pass the 2022 budget.