Budget deliberations over, now council votes

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The City of Airdrie’s Council Budget Committee (CBC) has finished 2017 budget deliberations and its recommendations are ready to go to council for discussion mid-December, according to Mayor Peter Brown.

“I think the focus this year was really to work within a budget that’s still reasonable, that still provides the services that we need and I think we came to that conclusion,” Brown said. “The goal for a lot of us was to limit, as much as possible, increases in these financial times, recognizing that a lot of people in our community and businesses are hurting right now.”

The CBC is recommending a 0.63 per cent increase to property taxes. At the same time, a proposed one per cent increase to the FORTISAlberta franchise fee will not be recommended. Residents in comparable municipalities pay approximately 20 per cent for this fee while Airdrie residents pay 13 per cent.

Franchise fees affect anyone paying a utility bill, including homeowners, churches, schools, renters and governments (provincial and federal) that are exempt from paying municipal tax. The fee is paid not just by taxpayers but by anyone using the utility.

“At the end of the day, I think you’re going to see some significant increases in your water and sewer utility bills because we have no control over that. You’ll see an increase with the implementation of blue box (recycling) – that’s going to add some money to your bill,” Brown said.

Councillor Ron Chapman, who is Chair of the Environmental Advisory Board (EAB), said he heard from more residents in favour of the implementation of blue box recycling than from residents opposed.

“That’s one thing I’ve always been asked for – blue box at the door or blue bin,” Chapman said. “We’re following the lead of other communities. I like to say that Airdrie is a leading community but, unfortunately in this initiative, we weren’t the leading community.”

According to Brown, the proposed operating budget originally included a shortfall of approximately $4 million, a number that was brought down to approximately $330,000 by staff and through CBC deliberations.

“I believe that a lot of thought went into the budget. Staff worked hard to get it down to where it needs to be. I think the budget deliberations were really good this year,” Brown said. “All of the committee members had an opportunity to dialogue and we had a lot of good discussion.”

Deputy Mayor Kelly Hegg agreed, and said a 0.63 per cent increase is “the next best thing to zero.”

Chapman said he went into deliberations knowing this was going to be a “tough budget year.”

“I hope that residents are happy with less than a one per cent tax increase and no increase on any franchise fees,” he said.

One of the recommendations CBC will make to council is to remove a proposed one per cent cost of living allowance increase for all non-unionized City staff from the budget. Director of People and Organizational Effectiveness Judy Molnar had cautioned the CBC during deliberations that a divide between what unionized employees – members of the Airdrie Fire Department are unionized – and non-unionized employees receive in terms of an increase could cause increased friction.

“I certainly hope not,” Brown said. “(Firefighters) are on a different level…and they do negotiate terms and agreements, however those are specific to (firefighters), they’re not specific to any other occupations within the organization.”

Brown said he felt a one per cent increase was a small part of the budget that could be removed at a time when many in the community have either lost jobs or are struggling to make ends meet.

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