INNISFAIL – Town council has completed the first big phase of the municipal budget process for 2022 that could see the highest property tax increase in seven years but also an “ambitious” forward-looking agenda that addresses future energy savings, enhanced recreational opportunities and public safety.
However, there is the possibility the proposed 2022 budget, which now looks at reducing Innisfail’s enviable total reserves from $14.7 million to $12.3 million, could still see some changes for the proudly debt-free municipality.
The work from last week’s budget deliberations will be brought back to council for further discussion at its Agenda & Priorities meeting on Dec. 6.
Council is expected to make a final decision on next year’s budget at its regular meeting on Dec. 13.
Going into last week’s budget deliberations, administration was at first looking at a 2.7 per cent property tax hike but last week’s process managed to cut that early projection down to two per cent. If passed by council it will be the highest property tax increase seen in Innisfail since at least 2015.
“I feel the budget discussions and where we are at is quite ambitious. I know people will be disappointed with a tax increase but we’ve had one since 2015,” said Mayor Jean Barclay, adding there’s been unexpected policing expenditure “pressures” for 2022, as well as future annual operational costs for the upgraded heliport.
“I think all in all we have done really well. I also think with all the public engagement we have done with our citizens their voices have been quite strong in coming back, so safety is a big one, and we’ve allocated some dollars going forward to work on a community safety initiative,” said Barclay, adding there will also be work done on economic development, another key public priority.
One of the big reasons for this year’s proposed tax increase is to cover increased policing costs, a result of the recently completed collective bargaining agreement between the federal government and the National Police Federation on behalf of RCMP members.
The increase will see Innisfail’s policing budget jump from $1,307,217 in 2021 to $1,497,907 in 2022, a hike of just over $190,000.
The town will also be hit with a still to be determined back pay policing bill going back to 2016. Early projections indicate it could be as high as $500,000.
The town, like all provincial municipalities, is also looking at a dramatic decrease with provincial MSI (infrastructure) funding. For both 2022 and 2023 Innisfail is expected to receive just $847,106 in MSI funding, about half of what the town typically receives annually.
Erica Vickers, director of corporate affairs, said if council goes forward with the proposed 2022 budget as decided from last week’s budget deliberations the town’s enviable reserve account situation will take a significant hit.
With the town’s reserves expected to total about $14.7 million at the end of 2021, the proposed 2022 budget is calling for a $2.4 million reserve take-away that could leave it at $12.3 million.
Among the key large big ticket expenditure items now on the table for 2022 are $645,000 for the upgrade to the heliport, $300,000 for schematic design work for either an upgraded Innisfail Aquatic Centre or a future multiplex, $450,000 for playground renovations, including the one by the Innisfail Arena; $1.2 million for road improvements, $1 million to upgrade the sound wall along 42 Avenue, and $400,000 for the creation of a new outdoor rink at a site to be determined.
“We get compared to Sylvan Lake and Blackfalds and Lacombe, and if we want to move the community ahead, we are going to have to do things,” said Barclay of the expenditures.
Council also gave a tentative green light to invest $900,000 from reserves in 2022 to the $1.3 million Energy Conservation Measures program, a corporate (Trane) and Alberta Municipalities (AUMA) initiative, that could see the town saving about $8,000 a month in energy costs by 2023.
The town is also proposing to set aside $50,000 for an architect design for Phase 1 of the Dodd’s Lake Area Community Recreation Plan; a move being made to address urgent parking and congestion issues in the boat launch area.
There is also a budget item to purchase a $96,000 wheelchair accessible van, a cost that is hoped to be offset by a $20,000 grant from the Medically At-Risk Driving Centre at the University of Alberta, and another $30,000 from local sponsorship.
As well, council was agreeable to the $25,000 purchase of a mobile events stage that can be easily moved from one place to another to host community events.
During the deliberations, all members of council refused a monthly $60 towards cell phone costs, which will save taxpayers about $5,000, just enough to cover the cost of media training that was tentatively agreed on for both council and administration in 2022.
“I am looking forward to that (media training) and I’m sure it will be valuable to all of us,” said Barclay. “We’ve seen in the last couple of years things can come up you don’t even think of and you need to be prepared and you need to handle that through the media, without question.”