BY KALISHA MENDONSA
Lacombe City council is inviting members of the public to attend an open house meeting on Monday, Nov. 21st to provide input and feedback into the upcoming 2017 Operating Budget.
The open house meeting will take place in the Lacombe Memorial Centre, North County Room from 4 to 8 p.m.
There have so far been three public meetings on Oct. 31st, Nov. 1st and Nov. 2nd to address and hear concerns regarding the operational budget, which is under constant revision and is debated within council chambers.
Mayor Steve Christie said council members do their due diligence in diverting as many costs as possible, both for the City and for citizens, but sometimes that can be difficult.
“For many years we have run very lean on the staffing side of the City as well as the budget side. I think our staff does an amazing job for what council allows them through the budget,” Christie said.
“When you run that way for a long while, the slack kind of collects on the rope. This year, we’ve gotten caught a little bit by running lean in the past and we don’t have much more fat to trim this year, especially with costs increasing as they have. We try to do our best to live within our means but at the same time provide the services that are required by our citizens.”
What this means is that some services or new programs have been tabled for revision in 2017, for consideration to adapt in 2018. Christie said members of administration are constantly returning to their individual departments to examine the most necessary services and programs and to determine what is able to be held until later.
Christie explained the reason for tabling these items is not due to a lack of need or concern but instead for the purpose of being able to wholeheartedly commit to a project, rather than allocating half or a third of the necessary project budget.
“Administration went back to their own departments and looked at some of the increases in service levels and different areas of service that we don’t currently offer. We had, without meaning to, harmed to a small degree those programs so it was brought back to us to shelve those initiatives for review again in 2017 instead of doing half a job now,” Christie said.
Some of the issues recently examined in council included potential tax increase portions and the use of department interns.
“We were sitting at about a 4.3 per cent tax increase, but administration has gone back to see what they could scratch to reduce that number. They also looked at what some of the effects were with some of the decisions that were already made,” Christie said.
“We came to a new number in council with regards to a possible tax increase. As we have said before, a 3.15 per cent tax increase is a fixed cost that we have no control over. That is insurance, utilities and other costs to the City that we cannot control. With that, we landed at about a 3.3 per cent tax increase by the time we were done.”
Council has agreed that now is not the time to take on interns, although they are deemed a valuable asset to City staff.
“We apply for intern funding on a grant basis, and we aren’t guaranteed to be approved for those positions. We felt as a council those were a couple spots that we could look at next year. They are definitely value positions and those intern programs have worked well in the past, but we will skip those in 2017 and check back for 2018,” he said.