SUNDRE — Without reducing services, the municipality’s administration was able to present a revised budget with no cost increases after council previously tabled the matter.
“Administration did go back to the departments to see if we could reduce some of our 2021 costs as requested by council,” said Chris Albert, director of corporate services, during the regular Dec. 21 meeting conducted by teleconference.
Presenting the updated four-year operating budget and 10-year capital plan, Albert said cost reductions were focused primarily on cutting back budget lines for professional development and training, which was felt would be the most suitable area to make cuts without impacting levels of service.
“So, the departments reviewed their budgets, and we were able to bring down those costs and get us just under a zero per cent increase,” he said, seeking council’s approval of the document.
Initiating a discussion, Coun. Cheri Funke moved to have council reaffirm the adoption of the budget and capital plan as amended.
Mayor Terry Leslie requested his colleagues consider the possibility of a further amendment under the legislative services portion of the budget, which council directly controls.
“I would ask that council reduce the professional development and the conference expenses and that type of thing that we have, by 50 per cent,” said Leslie.
“If we take all council members with a budget of $6,000 each and the mayor with a budget of $15,000, that means that we have basically $51,000 set aside for us, all collectively, to be able to do professional development, attend the groups and organizations that we do,” the mayor said.
“And this year, we have spent about $18,195.”
He said that budget item was doubled two years ago, and that council expenses for the last number of years have never exceeded that. This year, despite the allotment being increased to $51,000 two years ago, the actual expenditures came in under $20,000, he said.
And with the ongoing pandemic, the mayor argued the forecasted $51,000 expense in 2021 is no longer accurate, and should therefore be brought back down to $25,500.
“I believe we should lead by example,” he said, confident the reduced amount would still enable council members to pursue their professional development duties.
Coun. Todd Dalke agreed, to an extent.
“I would agree we’re going to have a downturn in what we may do,” said Dalke, citing the pandemic as the reason.
But he wanted to ensure that professional development opportunities are not undermined in the future, as spending a few hundred dollars to attend a conference or workshop might yield invaluable information such as learning about grants that could potentially open doors to funding worth hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. So, while the councillor agreed with the reduction for 2021, Dalke said he could not support a permanent, long-term roll back.
“My intention would be for this year only,” clarified Leslie, who recognized the upcoming October 2021 election could potentially pave the way for new members of council who would require professional development opportunities to prepare them to fulfill their obligations.
“This is not to constrain the 2022 budget year, just the 2021 budget year.”
Coun. Rob Wolfe agreed council must act as leaders, and said he would happily accept that reduction before proposing an amendment to the motion to that effect, which Funke was not opposed to, although she wanted the accurate and updated numbers crunched and updated for the official motion.
Speaking in support, Coun. Paul Isaac said council has a responsibility on behalf of residents to reduce costs where possible during the best of times, never mind during a pandemic.
“We’ve also asked our managers to reduce their costs, and I think we need to do our share,” said Isaac.
“As this is a one-off year, I think we should be OK…I think this is a good move.”
Funke, who said she appreciated the discussion and thanked council, wanted to know what the new expense line in the budget would be.
“It’s a $19,500 drop,” said Albert, explaining legislative services would go down to about $413,000 from $432,000.
Wolfe’s amendment to the motion was approved with Dalke opposed.
Before voting on Funke’s initial motion, the revised numbers were read into the record.
Council proceeded to unanimously carry the motion reaffirming the adoption of the 2019-2022 four-year operating budget and the 2021-2030 capital plan as amended, with total expenditures of $8,894,348 and $9,388,947, and total operating revenues of $5,295,036 and $5,356,262 in 2021 and 2022 respectively, with the remaining $3,599,312 and $4,032,685 in 2021 and 2022 respectively, to be funded through taxation, the Fortis franchise fee, municipal sustainability initiative operating grant funding, as well as restricted surplus accounts where identified.