Turner Valley’s new council is taking the first step to keeping its promise to taxpayers to reduce spending and, ultimately, lower taxes.
Council spent seven hours listening to presentations from administration and the Town’s various departments on Feb. 7. Administration presented a proposed operating budget of just over $6 million.
Council will meet privately later this month to make decisions on spending for each department item-by-item.
During last fall’s election campaign, Turner Valley Mayor Gary Rowntree promised voters he would focus on a zero-based budget and review expenses for each of the Town’s departments to keep spending as tight as possible.
“That was the campaign and now this is the real work,” he said. “My own campaign was based on a review and you can’t make decisions until you do a review and this is the process we are going through now.”
Rowntree said it was in response to his own concerns about spending.
“That’s the responsibility of council and the authority to ensure that it’s a budget that meets the needs of the community, but also is sensitive to the spending at the same time,” he said. “We want to ensure that the review is fair but, on the same token, what is best for the community at the same time. That’s the reason we are taking our time on this one.”
An itemized budget reviewed by council earlier this month followed a request by council for administration to create a template with line items for each department.
“We were able to go through it line by line with all the costs associated for each one of the departments,” he said. “That’s what they had presented and each one of the managers that were responsible for those came in and were able to present to council and the rationale behind it and there were questions asked for each one of them by council for further clarification.”
Council’s next meeting will have councillors deciding what to spend money on and what to veto.
“There is a number of things that we want to have a look at that probably would fall under FOIP,” he said.
Rowntree said council will let the public know what they decide in either a mail-out or on the Town’s website.
“The most important part is how we communicate to our ratepayers and the residents of the community,” he said. “It’s up to us as council to get a clear message out to our residents as to, especially with the budget, whichever way we decide to go.”
Second-term Coun. John Waring said the new budget process has given him far more understanding of how money is being spent.
“There is more detail,” he said. “Because it’s a group of new people, five of the seven councillors who are completely unfamiliar with the budgeting process, it’s a great learning curve. If you consider that we’re going to be together for the next four budgets it’s very important that we get this one right.”
Waring said council is doing its due diligence to look for efficiencies, savings and also contingencies that may not be necessary.
“Basically we’re getting down to what does it costs to provide the essential services to the residents,” he said. “At the same time we are looking into being able to fund reserves because we are fully aware of the fact that we need to put money away each year for when things need to be replaced. It’s just being more involved in the process than we had before.”