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Operating and capital budget 2020 approved

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Council approved an amended 2020 Operating Budget of $29,137,747, and a 2020 capital budget of $10,130,302.

During the regular council meeting on March 17, Coun. Ryan Maguhn started off with a motion to amend the draft budget by removing the Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) wage increases, which was passed by council.

Last week, council decided to lower the COLA wage increases for non-union staff from 1.9 per cent to 1.7 per cent.

Administration explained in an earlier meeting that this increase would match the union wage increases for 2020.

“I absolutely understand and respect the reasons for the suggested COLA increase in this fiscal year, I think unfortunately we have to pair that up with the fiscal realities of this budget and the economic situation that the province is currently facing,” said Maguhn.

He added that the intent was to redirect those funds of approximately $80,000 towards capital reserves.

Mayor Marcel Michaels agreed that the current situation has changed dramatically as private businesses are looking at laying off people, and that it is not the economic time for any increases.

While not all councilors were completely happy with the budget and Coun. Dewly Nelson stated he was not in favour, they did acknowledge all the hard work that went into it by administration.

Coun. Trevor Haas stated he looked forward to future discussions on service levels where they can discuss possible savings or increases
to lacking services.

“As we go through looking at service levels, looking at potential organizational efficiencies over the next year, that’s where the real changes can be made over the long term that are more sustainable, well measured, and made with the best information and decisions,” Maguhn agreed.

Council also approved the 2020- 22 Three-Year Operating Plan with direction that the 2021-23 three year operating plan would include no
more than a four per cent tax rate increase in each year.

Multiple councillors voiced their concern over the lack of focus on the implications of the three-year operating plan.

CAO Emily Olsen explained that after the three year operating plan is approved, subsequent motions could narrow down the numbers that come forward in reports during the 2021 budgeting process.

Nelson moved to bring forward an update to the three year operating budget reflecting an increased tax rate of no more than four per cent in each year by June.

Carla Fox, director of corporate services, explained that putting together a new budget by June and then again by November would not be efficient.

Fox recommended that council make the direction for administration to come back with a three year operating budget in the following budget cycle reflecting no more than a four per cent increase each year.

Council then approved the 2020 capital budget of $10,130,302 and the 2020-24 Five-Year Capital Plan as presented.

Maguhn raised some concerns over the transparency of the capital budget, which was shared by a few other councilors.

Overall councilors were appreciative of the work put into the capital budget by administration, especially the final changes amid the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Fox concluded that while the budget 2020 process was hard, she was proud of the end result.

“I wouldn’t have made it through this process without the support of our CAO, Emily Olsen,” she said.

She added that the team has worked hard to present a budget trying to meet council’s targets.

Council also approved an increase in commercial waste collection fee of five per cent each year for the next three years.

Maguhn readdressed a motion from the March 10 meeting that was voted against where a detailed annual capital budget would be made available publicly in all upcoming budget documents and presentations.

Currently, details on capital projects are not included to protect the tendering process, administration explained.

“Revealing line by line items may not allow us to maximize our savings in the tendering process. I know nothing about the tendering process, but [administration] does, and I’m willing to take their word and advice for it,” said Coun. Tyler Waugh.

Council voted to keep this as the status quo, not making line by line capital item details available to the public Nelson posed a motion to place a required approval from council on the street sign project through a request for decision prior to being tendered.

Nelson stated that this project has grown from the original plan in 2019 and that it could have some political repercussions similar to the Beaver Boardwalk bridge.

“I think this is something we want to make sure the citizens are aware of what the changes are, and make sure we are fully transparent in the process,” said Nelson.

Administration stated this process would delay the project.

Emdad Haque, Hinton’s director of infrastructure services, stated a sign standard would then need to be developed including where to put signs, the colour, size and all the details to bring back to council before tendering out.

This motion did not pass.

While some residents watched the meeting via livestream on the Hinton Voice Facebook page, the regular council meeting on March 17 was limited to 25 people due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

CAO Olsen stated that the impacts of COVID-19 had not been expressed through the budget.

Later in the meeting, Council directed administration to implement cost mitigation strategies within the 2020 operating budget to offset the ongoing financial impacts of COVID-19.