Council says more details needed for budget discussions

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Turner Valley town councillors say they need more information before they’re willing to move ahead on budget discussions.

Council began its preliminary budget discussions on Dec. 19 by going line-by-line through the legislative services section of the draft 2018 operating budget. However, when they moved on to look at Town administration, councillors said they wanted more to see a more comprehensive, itemized list of expenses.

“We have to know where the spending is taking place,” said Mayor Gary Rowntree. “We certainly want to go through line-by-line, look at the business cases, especially for the big ticket items. Certainly, we want to look at all aspects of the operations.”

Rowntree said the one-page draft operations budget document presented to council – which shows a variance between the 2017 budget and expectations for 2018 – is not enough.

“This format, I know it’s a common one that they use to report back to the government on, but it’s not a good one to use when you’re trying to review a budget,” he said.

“This is just a snapshot they have given us. This is not acceptable. This is taking the number from last year and adding some more to it. Does that really reflect the operating costs of a community?”

Rowntree said council will review the 2018 operational budget as a zero-based budget.

“You don’t use the base from the previous year,” he said. “You build it from zero. There are no variances from one year to the next.”

However, Rowntree said it is important to compare past years, as council did for its legislative services costs, which it was able to reduce by $6,300 last week.

“It gives you a benchmark from what they’ve done in previous years, and if we feel we don’t need that much money or we don’t need that at all we adjust it accordingly,” he said.

Council won’t go line-by-line for all areas, such as emergency services, which Rowntree said has done a good job of reducing costs. However, he said they will look at where they can find savings in other areas like administration, public works and business departments.

“It’s really important for council to look at, and administration is going to have to justify it,” he said. “And the same thing on capital spending. It’s going to be based on if there is a want and a need. We’ve got to see more needs than wants.”

Rowntree said council wants to see details on specific areas such as staffing costs, stationery expenses, legal services fees and consultation services.

“When we got our tax bills last year and we saw on the pie chart that was given to the residents that 14.9 per cent goes towards administration, that’s an awful lot,” he said. “For the benefit of council, we certainly need more of a breakdown than what we see here.”

Barry Williamson, chief administrative officer, told council on Dec. 19 that going through items line-by-line is going to be a much longer process.

“It’s going to take more than one afternoon to go through,” he said. “It’s going to have to be a thoughtful deliberation.”

Coun. Lana Hamilton said council is unable to have a clear discussion about spending if it doesn’t have a breakdown of all the expenses.

“How do we know if there is room for improvement or if it’s 100 per cent justifiable if we don’t know what’s included inside of that item?” she said.

Coun. Gary Raab agreed.

“I definitely need more details,” he said. “This is not good enough for me.”

On Dec. 18, Turner Valley Town council approved a $5,910,275 interim operating budget for 2018 to provide operating funds to carry the Town into the new year until the budget is complete.

Rowntree said the 2018 budget should be complete by the end of February.

“The interim budget is just allowing the 2017 (budget) to carry on until we get the new budget passed,” he said. “It’s the same budget as they were using last year.”

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