City's 2014 budget calls for a 3.4 per cent tax increase
By: Matt Durnan
| Posted: Thursday, Dec 19, 2013 10:28 am
Airdrie City council approved the 2014 operating and capital budget that includes a 3.4 per cent tax increase in 2014 on Dec. 16.
Included in the City’s $115.4-million budget is a $72.7-million operating budget and a $42.7-million capital budget. On top of the 3.4 per cent tax increase, Airdrie residents can expect to pay 15 per cent more per month on utility fees.
A typical Airdrie household is projected to pay nearly $100 per month for water, sewer, and waste management in 2014, compared to around $86 monthly in 2013.
“Utility rates jump up because we get our water and sewer from the City of Calgary and their rates have increased,” said Deputy Mayor Ron Chapman, who is chair of the Finance Advisory Committee (FAC).
The biggest increase will be felt in waste management fees, due to council’s approval of a city-wide curbside organics pick up, slated to start in April 2014 at a cost of $5.26 per month per household (see related story on page 6).
The proposed budget brought before council on Nov. 4 called for a 6.9 per cent tax increase in order to maintain or increase the City’s current service levels.
Through deliberations by FAC, staff returned to council on Dec. 16 with a proposed 2.85 per cent increase after re-working the operating fund to show nearly $1.5 million in reductions.
Chapman says this was a challenging budget process, but he commended City staff for their work.
“I think staff did a great job in coming up with the recommendation for a 2.85 per cent increase,” said Chapman.
“Council felt that we could move some money around and contribute to places like Volunteer Airdrie but overall I’m pleased with this budget.”
Council opted to move $150,000 back in to reserves; an additional $20,000 was granted to the Airdrie Public Library and Volunteer Airdrie was awarded $44,000 through FCSS funding (see story on page 6). These adjustments accounted for the jump from FAC’s recommended 2.85 per cent increase to 3.4 per cent.
Some notable reductions made to the operating fund were a $213,000 savings by reducing the RCMP’s request from four additional officers to two, a decision that didn’t sit well with Alderman Allan Hunter.
“Our population is constantly growing, we just had our first kidnapping here not long ago, we’ve had a rash of vandalism to cars and break-ins to homes,” said Hunter.
“There are plans for a new casino and racetrack and mall outside of the city, which means more traffic and more people passing through, so I don’t feel right about having less officers here.”
Mayor Peter Brown assured council and those in attendance that he had done his due diligence in consulting the RCMP and it was determined the detachment would be able to provide quality policing with an additional two officers.
“I spoke with (Sgt.) Gordon Sage and he has ensured that they will be able to operate with an additional two officers instead of four,” said Brown.
“As the community grows there really isn’t a magic number as to how many officers we need,” said Sage.
“I’m thrilled to have two additional officers and we will continue to work effectively with the resources we’re given and make the most of tax dollars.”
The two officers will be frontline, on the ground constables.
The City will save more than $335,000 in operating costs through staffing decreases.
“This doesn’t mean that we’re going to be getting rid of anyone,” said Alderman Ron Chapman.
“Staff came to us with a request for an additional 25 full-time positions and through our deliberations and meetings, we found that we could reduce that by about six positions.”
Recent weather played a role in the City’s operating fund as well, as Alderman Fred Burley took a stance against the FAC’s recommendation to pull $350,000 from the General Operating Reserve.
“I feel concerned about drawing so much from our reserves; you look at what we just experienced with the blizzard a few weeks ago and we needed to draw from our savings,” said Burley. “I think we should be looking at putting some of that money back in to our reserve with some of it allocated for snow and ice removal.”
Alderman Kelly Hegg echoed Burley’s statements, indicating that drawing from reserves was only a bridge solution and was not a sustainable revenue source.
“I think it’s important for us to maintain a healthy reserve fund that we can draw from,” said Hegg.
Council voted in favour of reducing the amount drawn from the Operating Reserve by $150,000, with $50,000 being allocated to a snow and ice reserve and the other $100,000 going back in to the General Operating Reserve, making the total taken out of reserves $200,000.
“We had a $1.2-million surplus in 2013 and that’s what goes into the reserves and where we were drawing it from,” said Chapman. “It is important to maintain a healthy reserve, because as you saw with the snow removal, that’s where we had to pull money from.”
Airdrie’s Infrastructure Team Leader Lorne Stevens spoke to council about the snow removal and the costs to the City.
“We spent nearly $250,000 in contracting costs,” said Stevens. “That will be recorded as a fourth-quarter variance. In the last two weeks, we put down about 500 tons of gravel and salt mix, for comparison sake, we put down about 600 tons all of last winter.”
The 2014 capital budget accounts for $42.7 million, with some major projects including:
· $12.6 million for a reservoir pumphouse
· $3.6 million to relocate the Main Street Fire Hall
· $2.9 million for arterial, collector and local roadway rehabilitation
· $1.2 million for the construction of a transit park and ride facility
Reserves account for the largest percentage of funding sources for capital projects at more than $20 million, grants account for $12.2 million and debentures for $9.4 million.