Wetaskiwin 2017 budget sees rate increases in two brackets UPDATED

The City of Wetaskiwin’s approximate $34.6 million budget is calling for a minimal tax increase of one per cent...

Budget overview

The City of Wetaskiwin’s approximate $34.6 million budget is calling for a minimal tax increase of one per cent to utility rates, and a 2.5 per cent increase to the Infrastructure Fund that is based on a 0.5 per cent growth in assessment.

With the combined increases the average household in the City of Wetaskiwin will be paying an additional $49 to the city in 2017.

Utilities

Councillors debated the possibility of increasing utility rates in the city by one per cent. Originally the motion was defeated in a 5-2 vote with everyone except councillors Joe Branco and Patricia MacQuarrie in favour of leaving them alone for 2017.

However, the one per cent increase was later approved following an in camera discussion. During budget deliberations council was eyeing a one per cent increase to general taxes but that is being left alone in favour of the utilities increase.

The total utilities: water, sewer and storm budget in the proposed budget for 2017 was $2.4 million and over the 10-year budget it is approximately $20.7 million (including 2016) — before the increase.

Currently the city’s utilities reserves has a $2 million surplus. It is proposed to have a $2 million deficit by 2020. “I have a pretty hard time with that,” said Coun. Tyler Gandam.

During public deliberations Coun. Wayne Neilson also thought about raising utility rates, but also felt a rate review should take place before that happened.

Utility rates were raised last year by two per cent.

In the utilities 2017 budget is:

  • storm sewer rehabilitation – $570,000 (2017)
  • wastewater treatment facility – $427,000 (2017)
  • water treatment plant – $130,000 (2017)
  • Garden Meadows Reservoir – $470,000 (2017)
  • lead pipe replacement – $50,000 (2017)
  • waterline rehabilitation – $200,000 (2017)
  • Lagoon Blower – $60,000
  • Esso Sediment Manhole – $30,000

*The budget items in brackets continue with additional funding over the city’s 10-year budget plan.

RCMP and bylaw services

To cover the costs of an additional RCMP officer the protective services budget is seeing an increase of $30,000, for 2017, with additional costs incurred in 2018.

When debating the specifics of a photo enforcement program and staff, councillors were divided on whether to move forward with half time or full time positions.

“I want to see the program go ahead with a full time officer and a full time administrative assistant,” said MacQuarrie, who added training of the staff must be factored into the $90,000 cost.

Neilson was against the full time positions and would rather see the city work slowly into the program. “I’d like to see us start with a half time assistant.”

“I would like to see a case built that justifies 40 hours a week,” he added.

Branco mentioned a staff member hired at half time may not want to move to a full time position if the program required it, leading to re-training another staff member.

Director of protective Services Leigh Sawicki says photo enforcement programs in other communities often run with a full time officer and administrative assistant.

Coun. Bert Horvey questioned whether the RCMP detachment’s request for a clerical staff member could share the administrative responsibilities of the program.

“They’re actually two different roles and responsibilities,” said Sawicki.

Downtown and Highway 2A

Several items included in council’s budget deliberations pertained to downtown and Highway 2A including the Downtown Master Plan, the Main Street Revitalization Project Phase 3, and the Auto Mile.

Regarding the Downtown Master Plan, the project will not move forward without a further strategic planning discussion with council.

The Downtown Master Plan was identified as a strategic priority of council, however, MacQuarrie feels council’s vision of what the project is mean to accomplish has been muddied.

Neilson wants the plan to address more than beautification and architectural uniformity, such as vacancy rates and renovations of derelict buildings. “I think, for me, when we started talking about the Downtown Master Plan it was to address some of those issues.”

Branco wants to ensure council is going to follow through with what the Master Plan would ultimately outline, as the plan itself costs $80,000. “What are we willing to back this up with? Because if we’re willing to spend $80,000 . . . What is our financial commitment to this project?”

Phase 3 of the Main Street project is in the budgeted for $8 million; $4 million in 2016 and $4 million in 2017.

The project will be brought right up to the intersection of 50th Ave. and Highway 2A, despite some disagreement between councillors.

Branco voiced concerns if the project is finished right to the intersection, lanes may not align properly when the Auto Mile project is completed. He was the only one who did not vote in favour of the concept.

Sue Howard, director of engineering and development, informed council the problem with basing any decision relating to Phase 3 on the Auto Mile is: the Auto Mile is just a concept while there are already detailed designs in place for Main Street.

“I would like to go right to the intersection so Main Street is uniform,” said Gandam. “Who knows if we’re even going to do the Auto Mile.

The Auto Mile is a $6 million Highway 2A infrastructure and road design project not slated for construction until 2020.

“We’re building something, a pathway, I honestly believe we don’t need,” said Branco. “This is one project I think should be canceled.”

“The idea is one Main Street was done we would compliment it with the Auto Mile,” said City of Wetaskiwin mayor Bill Elliot. He added when the project was originally brought to council it was $6 million over 10 years instead of two.

Highway 13 and 47th Street

A potential roundabout or another form of safety improvements for Highway 13 and 47th Street intersection is in the budget for: $25,000 in 2017, $30,000 in 2018 and $500,000 in 2019.

“We had to take a look at what was done to date and (we) really wanted to take a step back,” said Howard.

“The roundabout is the ultimate safety solution, there’s no doubt about that,” she added.

Howard also told council lowering the speed limit in the area and widening the lanes may address the problem and alleviate the need for a roundabout for the time being.

However, Howard said a warrant study of the intersection should be completed. Giving council time to approach the County of Wetaskiwin and provincial government for funding. The city is financially responsible for 50 per cent of the project.

Branco was concerned about long term actions effecting the intersection. “It’s only going to get more traffic. It’s never going to slow down.”

Sidewalk rehabilitation/Parks and trails infrastructure growth replacement/Trail connectors

Sidewalk rehabilitation projects is in the city’s 2017 budget for $20,000,  with a 10 per cent cost increase over the 10-year plan to account for inflation.

The focus of the budget item is to address curbs needing to be changed due to evolving standards and sidewalk areas that pose more significant tripping hazards.

In the budget, a parks and trails infrastructure growth replacement program is set at $25,000 in 2018, with the idea being looked at in 2017, says Howard.

Trail rehabilitation is budgeted at $50,000 for 2018.

Trail connectors are budgeted at $125,000 in 2017. The project includes Walkable Wetaskiwin initiatives.

“We want to start with the trail connector program because our trail rehabilitation doesn’t begin until 2018,” said Howard.

Pedestrian Crossing Lights

Council has instructed the engineering and development department to see how many pedestrian safety crossing lights can be purchased and installed in 2017 for $40,000.

The project continues in 2018 for $50,000, 2019 for $75,000 and every second year continuing to 2025.

The intersection of 50th Street and Northmount Drive was mentioned as a important contender.

Tree Replacement

A tree replacement program for the city and future goal of a city tree nursery was listed in the proposed budget at $10,000 in 2017; it’s also listed annually in the City of Wetaskiwin’s 10-year budget.

A nursery would reduce the costs of the program long term.

“I’m very supportive of this program,” said Coun. June Boyda. She wants to expand the program beyond simply replacing old or dead trees to increase the amount of trees in the city.

Councillors Neilson and MacQuarrie voiced their support of developing an adopt-a-tree program in the city. “I think there’d be a bit uptake in the community,” said MacQuarrie.