As presented at the first of four public meetings on Nov. 16, the draft 2020 budget is $2 million dollars more than the 2019 budget, representing a 16.64 per cent overall increase.
According to administration, the $14.7 million budget is what is required to cover current service levels, pay into reserves after years of depletion and to cover unplanned expenses that occurred in 2019 that will carry over into 2020.
The budget process has taken on a new format this year with department heads presenting their multi year proposed budgets to council while simultaneously discussing the current levels of services available in Hinton before council has a chance to offer input.
“You really want council to have the opportunity to see the challenges and see the numbers from all the departments. We know the end result is a number that’s too high,” stated Carla Fox, director of corporate services, on Nov. 16.
Fox added that the number presented is the amount needed to deliver current services, and that council has some tough choices ahead of them.
“It’s easy to tell us to go to five or six per cent but you are giving us the vehicle then to suggest cuts to services and I believe that direction needs to come from council first and give the opportunity to give us your take and to get your understanding,” said Fox.
Currently, the budget represents an actual 8.24 per cent taxation increase to citizens after taking last year’s half million dollar surplus and the increased property assessments into consideration, according to Fox.
During the first budget presentation on Nov. 16, each department presented their 2020 budget numbers in comparison to the current year. The presentations showed an overall jump from $12,514,567 in 2019 to $14,710,460 in 2020, and while almost all department operating budgets seem to increase, most of them claim to remain at similar service levels.
Coun. Dewly Nelson commented that he would have preferred to have a service level discussion ahead of the budget discussions to get the taxation increase to a number council would be able to agree with.
“We keep talking about creating a sustainable organization and one that’s healthy into the future, and huge increases in taxation I think takes away some of the credibility that we have because it comes off as being unrealistic, even though it might be what we need,” said Nelson. He added that he would like to stop seeing the community swing wildly between spending and cuts.
On Monday, Nov. 18, departments presented their detailed budgets to council at the second public meeting.
Three new positions approved in 2019, legal costs of more than half a million dollars, reserve fund increases, and total reserve reduction altogether accounted for approximately ten percent of the increase in the 2020 operating budget. Inflation is being calculated as two per cent, and is also included in the proposed tax increase.
Some departments struggled to know how much to request for their department as changes to the funding received by the Province have not been finalized.
Community support services, which includes Parent Link, have increased their ask by $25,000 in 2020 but have no idea how much of the $215,000 required to run the program annually will be funded by provincial grants until well after the budget is approved.
“We know that there are other organizations that will be part of the [provincial funding] allotment as well,” added Hans van Klaveren, manager of parks, recreation, and culture. He added that in a worst case scenario where no funding is given to Hinton’s Parent Link centre and council wants to keep the same services available, the $215,000 dollars would have to come from taxation.
Fox stated that after the fourth scheduled meeting on Monday, Nov. 25, administration will make some suggestions and council can start to give direction in the process.
“I don’t want council to think that we’re going to say, ‘hey council, tell us what services to cut.’ We’re aware that you don’t know the impacts of those, so we’re going to have some suggestions in areas that we’re looking at,” said Fox on Nov. 18.
As of The Hinton Voice’s press deadline, discussion on the capital budget was scheduled to occur on Wednesday evening, Nov. 20, and a final public meeting with an overview and council input is set for Monday, Nov. 25 from 4pm-8pm.