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Council whittles budget down to 1.81 per cent tax increase

Council went into budget planning meetings Monday facing a 2.89 per cent increase

Council is down to a 1.81 per cent residential tax increase for the first portion of its 2013 budget.

Other tax classes have so far escaped unscathed.

Council went into budget planning meetings Monday facing a 2.89 per cent increase but on Tuesday trimmed that figure down by making cuts at city hall.

Coun. Andy Adams proposed a .5 per cent reduction on non-compensation budgets for every department in city hall, which passed with councillors Ryan Mennie and Claire Moglove in opposition.

“I recognize staff have done a great job in holding the line,” Adams said. “What I’m talking about here is the extra costs that support departments. It could be travel, it could be supplies, it could be incidentals. While I know staff have sharpened their pencils and done a really good job, I’m asking to go just a little bit further. Just a little bit more relief that will enable us to be in a better move forward.”

Coun. Ron Kerr agreed.

“I do think we need to have a little bit of leeway coming into future meetings,” he said.

Upcoming financial meetings will take place the week of Jan. 22 for capital plan deliberations and the week of Feb. 25 for service level changes and tax rate debates. All meetings are tentatively scheduled for 9 a.m.

At the end of Tuesday’s financial planning meeting, the second this week, council endorsed the base budget which includes the RCMP and fire department budgets as well as contract and wage obligations.

Protective services, which includes policing and fire, went up $713,600 for 2013. The RCMP contract increased by $448,087 while CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees), the fire fighters union, and management and benefit increases accounted for a $660,335 increase over the 2012 budget.

Council also directed city staff to work with the fire department to find cost saving opportunities and to report back on the potential impacts of a five per cent reduction in the city’s Information Technology department.

Council also voted to free up $40,000 from general operating set aside for a Carbon Neutral Reserve.

The fund was never actually voted on as a resolution by council but is part of the budget as a way for the city to fulfil its Climate Action Charter commitments.

As a signatory to the charter, the city had to either achieve neutrality by the year’s end through buying offsets or investing in local greenhouse emission reduction projects. Instead, city staff recommended council go with another, cheaper option of showing it’s moving towards becoming carbon neutral by opening a savings fund ear-marked for municipal projects.

But Coun. Andy Adams said Monday he doesn’t think the fund is doing anything for the city.

“It was created by the province and local government has to contribute to a fund that you may not get appreciable return from in your community,” he said. “I don’t think putting money into a bottomless pit does us any good at all.”

However, Laura Ciarniello, the city’s manager of corporate services, said deleting the account could have negative impacts.

“If we do not set aside the $40,000 we can continue to be part of the Carbon Neutral Charter, however we will become a Tier II community,” Ciarniello said. “That makes us less competitive in our grant applications and our requirements for funding.”

Council voted to keep the Carbon Neutral Reserve but take the $40,000 from the gaming reserve instead of general operating.

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