Village of Burns Lake’s 2012 budget discussions are set to continue, at least until Feb. 7, 2012, when their next budget meeting is scheduled.
After weeks of indecision at the table, council is still yet to approve the provisional budget.
Carla Fox, village deputy director of finance presented the reworked budget to councillors based on a 3.5 per cent tax increase [down from 5 per cent] with no increase in garbage rates and a two per cent wage increase across the board for village staff. There was also $5,000 allocated to the purchase of new Christmas lights and 50 new summer banners for the village’s light posts. Approximately $45,000 was also included in the proposed budget for wages for an intern for 2012. The total tax revenue generated in 2012 from the proposed budget would be more than $1.2 million.
However, Coun. John Illes said he is not happy with the proposed 3.5 per cent tax increase and no increase in garbage rates. He requested that further scenarios for municipal tax increases and water, sewer and garbage rates be presented to council.
Councillor Susan Schienbein agreed. “I need to see it [what increases would look like] on paper. I have an appetite to look at increases in water, sewer and garbage rates to balance the budget and more scenarios would be good, rather than just taking one per cent here and 10 per cent there.”
Councillor Illes also asked village staff to provide a scenario showing what an increased tax rate would look like if council chose to proceed with a portion of the proposed downtown revitalization project.
According to village chief administrative officer Sheryl Worthing, phase one of the downtown revitalization project has a $948,000 price tag to fully implement, if everything on the plan that Boulevard Transportation Group has drawn up for phase one is undertaken.
“The $948,000 cost is the full meal deal for phase one,” Worthing said.
Worthing said to Lakes District News, “Phase one includes installing left turn lanes in two locations, adding curb bulbs [curb bulbs extend the sidewalk into the street, reducing the time and distance it takes a pedestrian to cross] with trees along the highway corridor to visually enhance the area while maintaining as much on street parking as possible, adding an emergency light at the intersection of Third Avenue and Hwy. 16 that would be controlled by the fire department, changing the traffic pattern where First Avenue meets Hwy. 16 and where Centre St. meets Hwy. 16 and adding and relocating crosswalk locations.”
From 2009 to 2011, Boulevard Transportation Group was paid $43,031 to develop the village plan and urban design guidelines revitalization document.
Councillor Illes said that after spending money on the plans, he would like to see at least a portion of phase one implemented during 2012. “I would like to see a tax rate increase scenario for the implementation of a portion of phase one as we have put a significant amount of money into developing the downtown revitalization plans,” he said.
“I know we are not going to have $948,000 unless we have a whopping tax increase this year, but I want to know how we can bring some of this phase one plan forward into the 2012 budget and if council is even interested in proceeding with it?”
Councillor Quentin Beach said, “What are you envisioning? I agree that we did pay all this money for the plans. Can we just borrow [a portion of] the money? That way we won’t impact the budget.”
Worthing said, “Yes. We can borrow. We have really good borrowing power.”
Councillor Illes expressed his frustration with capital projects being bumped from the village budget year after year. “I am confident that we can balance this budget with rate increases in water, sewer and garbage and a zero per cent municipal tax increase, but if we are going to move forward with our capital plans then we need to combine a five per cent tax increase with rate increases.”
Mayor Luke Strimbold said, “I can guarantee you that there is going to be tax increases if you want to continue with these projects. It just depends which projects [are chosen] as to how much the tax increase is going to be.”
Councillor Susan Schienbein said, “Maybe I am lost in space here, but I thought that during our Jan. 9, 2012 meeting we discussed our five year plan, which included our capital plans and plans for sidewalks and roads …. I thought that is what we are already doing?”
“It is what we are doing, but we don’t have the money to pay for it all. Capital projects keep getting shoved over to the next year when we have a zero per cent tax increase,” Coun. Illes responded.
Councillor Quentin Beach said he agreed with Coun. Illes and said that either the taxes should be increased to meet council’s goals for capital plans, or the capital plans should be reduced to meet the budget. He again commented on his concerns with Lakes District News reporting on future increases in the form of percentages. “Percentages [for tax increases] sound bad and the newspaper runs with it and then we [councillors] get hammered,” Coun. Beach added.
Councillor Varga used the greening and repaving of Eighth Avenue as an example of a project that is put off year after year, but is still included in the village’s five year financial plan and in the budget.
Worthing said, “That’s because the project will cost over $5 million. By now the project will probably cost way more than that. We cannot afford that amount of money, but we do have a shelf ready project if a grant opportunity comes up. It’s included in the five year plan and the budget so that we are all aware that we are not forgetting about the project. That’s what happened with the arena upgrades project,” Worthing said.
As reported in the Lakes District News edition of Nov. 30, 2012, council recently voted to apply for a $2 million provincial government grant opportunity for upgrades to the Tom Forsyth Memorial Arena. If successful the village will be required to pay 20 per cent of the total cost, which amounts to approximately $400,000.
Councillor Illes said he thinks that the Eighth Avenue project should be dropped entirely from the village’s five year financial plan and budget. “We shouldn’t be lying to taxpayers,” he said.
Worthing said, “I don’t think we are lying.”
“Well, we didn’t have the arena expansion project on the budget. We pulled that one off the shelf.”
Mayor Strimbold said, “We and previous councils have made Eighth Ave. our goal …. now we are saying it’s not? We need to be consistent.”
Councillor Varga said, “When we come up with objectives, we have to be realistic. I am not comfortable spending thousands of dollars on plans. Things change and these plans need to be redone anyway.”
Fox said, “The budget has been driven based on council’s five year capital plans. If council is changing their plans now …. a lot of work has gone into this [budget].”
“I am not changing the plans …. I just think we need to show how we are going to do Eighth Avenue. Maybe we need to say it will be completed in year 15 and put $200,000 away every year towards it. How are we going to fund the future? The future is coming really fast. I don’t want to see projects [in the budget], I want to see money and how much we have to spend on projects,” Coun. Illes added.
Council’s next budget meeting is scheduled for Feb. 7, 2012 where the scenarios asked for by councillors will be presented.