Finances the focus for new year

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Turner Valley town council will be paying closer attention to how money is being spent as it prepares to start off 2018.

Tightening the budget, establishing a finance committee and combining services with neighbouring communities are among the priorities for Turner Valley council as it moves into its first full year in just a week, said Mayor Gary Rowntree.

“The biggest things we are focusing on over the year is the financial side and seeing how much more we can collaborate with our neighbour to the east at the same time,” he said. “Are there things we can work together on? Maybe join some of the departments? We’ve got our work cut out for us. There is so much that we have to do.”

Approving the 2018 budget and hiring a chief administrative officer are at the top of the list the next couple of months. CAO Barry Williamson gave his notice of retirement earlier this month. His last day on the job will be Jan. 5.

“We’ve already put together our ad hoc committee for that (finding a new CAO) and we’ve already had a meeting on starting to move ahead with that,” said Rowntree. “That’s one of the most important things we have to do in the first quarter.”

Administration and council have also been busy preparing the 2018 budget. Council approved the interim operational budget last week.

“Our objective is not only to review the financial side of the municipality, but also our expectation is we would like to be able to lower taxes,” Rowntree said. “That would be a major accomplishment if we could go and reduce the taxes for our residents. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Rowntree said another priority for council is establishing a finance committee. He expects council to make a motion to establish the committee sometime in the first three months of 2018.

“The finance committee will be to ensure that everything is staying within the approved budget once it comes forward and we want to do a review of all the tenders and the contracts that may come forward and be part of the bidding process,” he said. “It’s not unfamiliar for the municipalities to have them. It’s just that extra check and balance throughout the year to ensure that the tax dollars are being spent in what we, as the residents, expect.”

Council is working with administration to explore the potential to livestream its public meetings to improve communication with residents. Rowntree said one of the first motions the new council passed in the fall was to get administration to look at options to broadcast meetings online.

“There will be a report coming back in the next month on that,” he said. “Until we get fibre optics in, what we hear from other municipalities is there is a bit of a struggle for (livestreaming).”

Reviewing the Town’s strategic plan will also be a priority for council and administration in the coming months. Rowntree said some objectives may need adjusting or could be removed altogether.

For instance, Rowntree said council and administration will discuss the Main Street redevelopment plan. Proposals include an outdoor restaurant, visitor information centre, retail space, a plaza and square, farmers market and community/town hall.

“That whole thing with Main Street has to be reviewed again and see if it’s still the way that we want to go,” he said.

Rowntree said he feels the same about the previous council’s interest in moving the municipal Campground.

“The movement of the campground from its present location to down by the river, is that the best thing for the campground or is it better to leave it where it is and just improve it?” he said. “There’s been improvements on it the last year.”

Updating the strategic plan also falls in line with council’s plan to reestablish the Economic Development Committee (EDC) in collaboration with surrounding communities, said Rowntree.

“I can’t see that we’ve gone that far with it,” he said, referring to the existing committee. “We’ve had some investment come into town, which has been great, but we certainly want to see if we can improve it and see if we can grow our commercial side. The only way we can do it is by reestablishing the EDC and seeing exactly what we can do with it and working with our partners as well, Black Diamond especially.”

With fresh faces on council, Rowntree sees a lot happening in Turner Valley in 2018.

“Now that I’ve had an opportunity to work with this council I’m very impressed with them,” he said. “They are just great people to be able to work with for the next four years. I think they can all make a difference for our community as we move forward.”

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