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Council makes moves in draft two of budget

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

A first look at draft two of the 2020 operating budget prompted a series of motions from council during the regular council meeting on March 3.

Three options for the 2020 operating budget were presented in response to councils request in December for a new budget report including a taxation requirement reduction of at least $1.6M from draft one of budget 2020.

Draft one included a 16.7 per cent increase over budget 2019 just to maintain existing services while accounting for certain increases.

All three budget options provided by administration included administrative reductions of $676,949 and a proposed $215,000 in reductions through discontinuing the red dead tree removal of $55,000, the yearly allocation for maintenance of the Beaver Boardwalk totalling $60,000, and a suggested reduction to groups found under Civic Agencies. 

A motion to keep the Red Dead Tree Removal budget in the 2020 budget was defeated following discussion about its effectiveness at this stage.

Fire Chief Todd Martens stated that $55,000 is not enough to deal with the scope of the issue in the area regarding the Red Dead Tree Removal budget.

“This is about reducing the fire hazard that we have, the amount here won’t even touch the fire hazard we have right now and the issues we have,” he said.

Hazardous trees will continue to be removed even without the red dead tree removal program.

Martens confirmed that approximately $2.6 million was spent in the past eight years on FireSmarting within the community and that $55,000 won’t affect the current fire hazard.

Martens added that there is also no firesmart funding available from the province and that no new firesmart projects are being approved.

Council directed administration to come back with a report on the option of community members contributing to the removal of red dead trees in the municipality by Q3. 

Martens voiced some concerns with the potential program in regards to access, safety, and administrative time restraints.

Council did make a decision to maintain the beaver boardwalk funds of $60,000 in the 2020 operating budget, following discussions surrounding the Beaver Boardwalk maintenance budget.

The $60,000 allocated to the maintenance was set to come to an end after 2020, yet the town hasn’t maximized these funds due to regulations and the wait for approvals on applications.

Since Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) hasn’t responded to the town, administration felt these funds could be removed.

Laura Howarth, director of community services, stated that as they wait for approval, the $60,000 is not even considered a bandaid anymore for the project.

Mayor Michaels expressed the need for flexibility in the budget if AEP approval is granted or recommendations come forward.

Beaver Boardwalk committee member, Coun. Albert Ostashek, believes a response from AEP is near. 

Hans Van Klavern, parks, recreation & culture manager, confirmed the current request to AEP is for all required maintenance for a ten year period.

Tackling the list of civic agencies, council made the decision to include the $20,000 annual donation to STARS in the 2020 budget as it was deemed an essential service.

Coun. JoAnn Race made a motion to include $10,000 for Hinton Employment and Learning Place (HELP), which was voted down.

Council then voted to include the disc golf project of a parking lot for $35,500 contingent on a civic agencies report requested at the previous meeting and further decision of council.

Due to lack of funds for this project, a motion was tabled until further discussion to fund the disc golf parking lot through transfer to reserves to be funded through an increase in taxation in Ostashek stated that it is an irresponsible move from council to add projects without knowing the full scope of the project and not knowing where funding will come from.

“If council is going to dictate if a capital project is going to go ahead then they need to dictate where it’s going to be funded from and I’m not comfortable taking funding away from any of the projects that have already been prioritized to help fund this one,” said Ostashek.

While already part of administration’s recommendations, council also moved to maintain the $75,000 for the Hinton Historical Society pending the civic agency report findings.

Another motion was tabled in regards to reducing contracted and general services from the economic development budget in order to adjust the Chamber of Commerce partnership agreement for the visitor centre in 2020 to $53,000.

Administrative reductions included a drop in casual wages for the Corporate Services Department by $15,000, removal of a capital purchase for the EMS building of roughly $1.3M, removing $104,000 worth of interest and principal payments, a reduction in the Economic Development budget of $80,000, a reduction of the loan payment for the new fire truck, a reduction to Management wage grid increases from $265,000 to $65,000 anticipated in 2020, and a reduction in transfers to reserves in order to ensure operational funds available for the anticipated legal cost increases and required contracted services for pending legal issues.

Further reductions are made to reserves such as the removal of the $300,000 increase in contribution to the Water and Sewer reserve to offset the surplus that is currently subsidizing the general services budget, and a reduction to the Parks and Trails reserve.

All those reductions added up to a total of $919,521, however, necessary increases included an estimated $103,000 for cost of living allowance (COLA) wage increases for non-union staff of approximately 1.9 per cent that matches the union wage increases for 2020, $90,000 increase in FCSS due to an overstatement of 2019 revenues, and Council remuneration of $30,000 to address overages.

Council felt the additional $30,000 in council remuneration wasn’t necessary and made a motion to remove this from the budget.

As well, a motion was tabled and set to come back following in-camera discussions regarding a report and required approval for implementing the wage COLA increase.

Budget deliberations will continue during the standing committee meeting on March 10.