City council has trimmed the 2016 operating budget after a lengthy discussion.
Councillors sat down on Monday night at a committee meeting to discuss how they were going to make up for a revenue shortfall resulting from terminating the Automated Traffic Enforcement Program.
Two weeks ago at their regular meeting, council voted to axe the photo radar program, which left a hole of $325,000 in the 2016 operating budget from the estimated revenue generated from the program.
“Essentially, after that last meeting we went back and we looked at any further possible savings within the 2016 operating budget,” said the City’s Chief Administrative Officer Norma MacQuarrie. “We were able to reduce fuel costs by $25,664 and we also budgeted for an additional revenue of $25,000 from automated traffic enforcement fine revenues that would filter in after the termination of the program.”
With these reductions, MacQuarrie estimated the proposed tax rate increase would sit at 5.29%. Prior to the termination of the photo radar program, council directed administration to build a budget that would have between a 3% and 3.5% tax rate increase.
MacQuarrie estimated the budget shortfall to be approximately $250,o00 if council wished to keep a 3% to 3.5% tax rate increase.
So it was back to the drawing board and one by one council went through a list of possible deletions or reductions compiled by administration, deliberating and determining which programs, new positions or items would be cut to make up for the revenue shortfall.
Mayor Steve Christie said, after looking at the list, that he did not want to ‘blanket cut’ any of the items.
“I thought we had a great budget,” he said. “We didn’t do the full wish list, but we did what we had to. We kept service levels where they were.”
Councillor Wayne Rempel agreed with Christie that the previously crafted budget was a good effort. “We had a good budget,” he said. “We came in at a fairly good percentage (tax rate increase). The only thing that did change was photo radar.”
Councillor Grant Harder said a tax rate increase of 5.29% was, “not palpable,” and requires a budget reduction.
“We have a long way to go,” he said. “I would like to see us reduce it $200,000 to $250,000 like we agreed to. I don’t know if we are able to get there without some radical slashes.”
Councillor Reuben Konnik said he reviewed the operating budget once more and identified 40 line items that could be trimmed, revealing $73,000 in savings. These items were passed onto administration to be reviewed over the next week, which could result in more reductions.
In the end, council ended up making $170,000 in cuts to bring the tax rate increase down to approximately 3.91%.
Savings were realized through cutting the spray patching roads program (a reduction of $25,000), reducing summer parks staff positions from two to one, among other cuts.
The 2016 budget will return to council for approval on Dec. 14th at their regular meeting.