Morinville residents could have an extra $67 in their pockets next year now that town council has chopped almost a quarter million dollars from the 2021 budget.
Morinville council passed second reading of its 2021 budget and utility rates bylaws Nov. 10 after some significant alterations to both.
As of first reading, the 2021 budget featured a 1.5-per-cent residential tax hike that would result in the owner of a typical $332,696 home paying $37.49 more in residential taxes. Add in projected hikes to utilities, the school tax and Homeland Housing, and most homeowners were set to pay about $114 more in all taxes and utilities.
Council asked administration for a report on what items it could cut from the budget to eliminate that 1.5-per-cent tax hike.
Town corporate services director Shawna Jason reported this would require $153,000 in cuts, and found some $261,000 in potential reductions. Cancelling next year’s two-per-cent cost-of-living raise for town staff and council would save $161,000, while dropping the proposed resident survey and engineering standards updates would save $25,000 and $75,000, respectively.
Offsetting those cuts were two potential additions, Jason continued. First was $65,000 for a modular to give the RCMP and town bylaw officers some much-needed office space. (The RCMP’s current home in Morinville needed to be replaced, but that wasn’t expected to happen for years.) The second was an additional $23,000 for Edmonton Global. Morinville was a member of this Edmonton-area economic development group, and the group had recently raised the town’s contribution fee.
Council approved the $65,000 increase for the RCMP modular but held off on the Edmonton Global item to hear more about it on Nov. 24.
Council supported Coun. Stephen Dafoe’s move to cancel the two-per-cent raise for town council and staff and the resident survey, the latter of which he said was pointless to do during the last year of council’s term.
Council also backed Coun. Scott Richardson’s call to erase the engineering standards update.
Coun. Nicole Boutestein lopped another $50,000 off the budget by defunding the Storefront Improvement Program. Launched last February, this program offered Morinville businessowners up to $10,000 in matching funds (from a pot of $50,000) to spruce up storefronts along 100 Ave. Council heard just two of this year’s five participants in the program were actually going through with their renovations.
Boutestein said cutting this item would help struggling businesses by reducing the tax rate. Her motion passed 4-3, with Richardson, Mayor Barry Turner, and Coun. Lawrence Giffin opposed.
Pause on stormwater
Council backed Dafoe’s move to freeze stormwater rates at 2020 levels for one year in a 4-3 vote (Boutestein, Giffin, and Turner opposed). Those rates had been poised to rise by $30 per year for the average home.
In 2018, town council decided to start paying for its stormwater system through utility bills instead of taxes, and aimed to have utility rates rise until they cover the system’s costs (i.e. full cost recovery) by 2027.
A one-year freeze on stormwater rates would push that goal back by about two years, Dafoe noted, citing information from administration. Town residents are hurting financially, and stormwater is one of the few utility rates council can directly control to offer them some relief.
Council’s changes at second reading chopped a net $246,000 off the 2021 budget, which was more than enough to eliminate the need for a tax increase.
If council passes the 2021 budget and utility rates in their current forms and cancels the proposed 1.5-per-cent tax hike, the average Morinville homeowner would pay about $5,028 in taxes and utilities next year. That’s about $67.50 less than projected at first reading – equivalent to about eight adult passes at the Morinville Leisure Centre or six dozen Tim Hortons doughnuts.
Online open houses
Administration had planned to hold an in-person open house on the budget Nov. 5 but cancelled it due to the pandemic.
Instead, Jason said the town would host two online budget forums: one for businesses on Nov. 26 from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. and one for residents on Dec. 1 from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.
The budget returns for third reading Dec. 8. Visit www.morinville.ca/en/town-hall/budget.aspx for details.