The City of Lacombe agreed to a operating budget that will include a 0.9 per cent tax increase, which is below the 1.4 per cent increase that was initially proposed.
Council, when elected, committed to keeping tax increases to the CPI inflation number — which this year is 1.4 per cent — but Counc. Reuben Konnik challenged administration to bring back proposed operating budgets with a 0 per cent, a 0.9 per cent and a 1.4 per cent increases.
Council ultimately chose 0.9 per cent, with Counc. Thalia Hibbs, Konnik, Don Gullekson and Mayor Grant Creasey voting for the motion. A final draft of the Operating Budget will be presented at the next council meeting, including how the city will make up for a $20,000 shortfall that 0.9 per cent creates.
“I think that is an acceptable increase. The very best part of it for me is that we are still providing funds to the reserves at a level that is higher than any year previous,” Mayor Grant Creasey said.
Non-elected city officials will see a 0.9 per cent cost-of-living increase included in this operating budget
To make up for the shortfall, administration presented several options for cuts including: a $3,000 contribution to the operating reserve; $40,000 savings if BOLT partners agree to an early exit; $50,000 in savings found in limiting the Community Builders Fund; $12,000 from limiting maintenance and repairs the fire hall; $10,000 from limiting maintenance and repairs at City Hall; a potential $97,000 in savings from delaying the hiring of a Asset Management Coordinator; $13,000 in savings from increased hours for the human resources coordinator; and a potential $25,000 in savings from limiting road patching throughout the City.
Mayor Grant Creasey says the shortfall will be made up in combination of these elements, with several of the options being more palatable than others.
Counc. Jonathon Jacobson said the shortfall is fairly simple to make up.
”We identified a lot more than $20,000. If our partners with the BOLT program accept our request, that alone will take care of it and then some,” he said.
Given the uncertainty of future provincial cuts Jacobson wanted to have the tax increase remain at 1.4 per cent to ensure the city is properly funded in the future.
“If provincial funding dries up, we will have to make a decision between substantial tax increases or significant service cuts. If you go the increase route, to go from 1.4 per cent to say 2.8 to 2.9 is a little bit more reasonable than 0 per cent to 4 per cent,” he said, citing the province has suggested more cuts will come if the energy industry does not stabilize.
Jacobson said have a 0 per cent increase is perhaps a popular choice, but doesn’t necessarily put the city in the best position going forward.
“I believe that sticking to this revenue level would have put the City in a position to better manage things down the road,” he said.
Mayor Creasey added, “I respect the concerns that other councillors have. No one has a crystal ball and that is why we do this deliberations annually. I am hoping next year, we are able to come up with appropriate accommodations in order to work our way through the current financial situation.”