City of Lacombe councillors have passed the 2016 operating and capital budgets.
Councillors approved the budget on Monday night, which includes a 3.61% tax rate increase.
The total budget consists of an operating budget of $31,967,309 and a capital budget of $14,248,948.
Last week councillors were sitting in a very different position, looking directly at a 5.29% tax rate increase for taxpayers unless reductions were made to the operating budget.
At their last regular council meeting, council voted to axe the photo radar program, which left a rather large hole in the City’s revenue projection for 2016.
After a lengthy discussion at a committee meeting, councillors made reductions to some programs and services, bringing the proposed tax rate increase for 2016 down to 3.91%.
At the committee meeting, Councillor Reuben Konnik had suggested a few additional items that could also be trimmed from the budget, like training, office supplies and advertising, and with those reductions closely looked at and then applied, administration brought back the operating budget for approval with a yet again a lowered tax rate increase, 3.61%.
Although the process was not as cut and dried as other years, councillors were moderately pleased with the results of this year’s budget and lowering the tax rate increase.
“The process was difficult and it is always hard to come up with a number that works for everyone,” said Konnik.
Councillor Bill McQuesten said that he was concerned some of the items that were initially included in the 2016 operating budget were deferred until the following year.
“I don’t want to pat ourselves on the back just yet,” he said. “Over a two year span, you have to think long-term and there’s a chance we might have done ourselves a disservice by cutting a little too much.”
Councillor Wayne Rempel echoed McQuesten’s concern.
“It’s nice that we can keep our tax rate low but we do have to think long-term and we have to understand that as much as no one likes paying taxes, it’s a reality,” he said. “We can do our best at a reasonable rate.”
Mayor Steve Christie said that it is a challenge to keep a balance during these economic times.
“I just want to thank council as well for looking at that balance, looking at what’s fair, what the needs are, what the wants are and making those decisions,” he said.
Christie added that they were very close in hitting their initial targeted tax rate increase for 2016.
Highlights in the 2016 capital budget include a paving and sidewalk replacement program, the final phases of safety code upgrades to the Lacombe arena, the addition of the police service dispatch services, the park space rehabilitation plan, a new score clock at Michener Park and annual fleet and equipment replacement programs.
Both the operating budget and capital budget passed with one councillor in opposition.
MacQuarrie said council will be reviewing the mill rate bylaw in April and there may be the opportunity to reduce the property tax increase even further.