BY RYAN WELLICOME
Budget surveys conducted by City administration for the upcoming fiscal year merited an impressive response from the public, City officials say.
The public surveys were conducted over a three week period and were developed in order to hear how the public felt about how their tax dollars were being spent.
“This was the first year we have actually done a survey. I believe the response was fairly strong for the three week opening,” said Financial Services Manager Justin de Bresser.
The survey elicited 263 responses and attracted feedback through three different methods: web embedded surveys on the City’s web site, links attached to social media posts and paper surveys available at City Hall.
The questions in the survey addressed demographics, value for money, tax guidance and planning with areas for open comments and questions.
According to a report presented by City administration, of the 263 responses, 32% were in the age range of 31-40 and both ranges of 41-50 and 51-60 encompassed 19% and 20%, respectively. The age range of 19-30 made up almost 16% of the submitted responses. Almost 60% of respondents have lived in Lacombe for 10 or more years while 85% own a home.
The report said that 54% of respondents viewed the value of their tax dollar as “fairly Good” – third highest of four ranked responses – for recreation programs and facilities, 60% for utility services, 51% for police and fire services and 65% for administration.
Tax guidance questions were used to determine how citizens believe the City spending and taxation should be undertaken.
According to the report, 31% of respondents were in favour of seeing a combination of property tax and user fee increases to balance budgets.
Twenty-six per cent wished to see a combination of service-level cuts and a smaller increase in property tax and user fees. The most unpopular option was a sole increase in property taxes with 58% of respondents voting it as the least appealing.
In the survey respondents were asked, in the event that services must be cut, which services would they be willing to see cut.
According to the report these responses included cuts to policing, changes in solid waste pickup schedules, snow removal, administrative cost cuts and reducing spending on public art.
Respondents were asked to identify the top three priorities that they believe the City should address over the next 12-24 month period.
According to the report, the top answer for first priority was reducing the tax burden. The top answer for priority two was focusing expenditure on infrastructure. The top answer for the third priority was to promote commercial expansion.
The survey asked respondents on what services they would spend $100.
In the hypothetical question a total of $14,640 was allocated with the most – $4,070 – allocated to roads: construction, maintenance and snow removal.
Of the remaining funds $3,680 was allocated to recreation programs and services, $2,580 for maintenance and growth of parks and trails, $2,000 to community services, $1,440 for protective services like fire, police and emergency management and $870 to transit.
In past years, budget feedback has been gathered through comments and suggestions submitted by the public. Councillor Reuben Konnick expressed that a mixture of surveys and submissions could be beneficial in the future.
“I wouldn’t mind seeing a hybrid,” he said.
“We have seen some good things come out of those public submissions for budgeting ideas.”