At the end of the third meeting of the newly elected Wetaskiwin City Council, on November 25th, I jokingly stated, “With this many questions being asked, (of Administration) I will have to bring my power cord for my laptop to the next meeting (to extend the battery life).” The first meeting of the Wetaskiwin City Council on October 28, 2013 was mostly ceremonial with the new Council being sworn in and finding their way from the wooden guest benches to the soft, padded chairs. The third meeting of the Wetaskiwin City Council on November 25th, 2013 was business, and not ‘business as usual’ as experienced during the previous 3 years. The new Council has questions. Lots of questions augmented with a multitude of requests for additional information and clarification. And want them answered with facts and numbers as illustrated by the following examples:
Administration is suggesting a significant increase in utility fees for 2014. (see details below)
• Is there a report about how the fees are collected, managed and used?
• How far behind are we? (Administration suggests that until utilities become operationally sustainable taxpayers will continue to see utility tax increases proposed)
• What level of increases are justified? Note: The proposed minimum increases total approximately $100 and do not include usage or consumption.
Administration recommends a 5 year lease for the Library at $83,000/year, or approximately $10/square foot. This is an increase from the previous lease of $77,000/ year. A second motion proposed by administration was to approve $60,400 of renovations to be completed by the landlord.
• If we amortize the $60K of renovations over 5 years and add that to the annual lease we are actually paying $95K per year for the facility?
• Should we consider buying the property ($95K per year X 5 years = $475K)
• Is the lease rate fair market value? (Assistant City Manager, Theresse Mindio assured Council it was fair market value for a property of that type in that location)
• Was the Library Board involved with the lease negotiations?
• Are funds available to improve the front façade?
These are examples of how in-depth the questioning is by the new Council. They are asking a lot of questions and are not being turned aside with incomplete responses, or responses they don’t understand. Council is asking for reports, justifications, reasons and other options to recommendations suggested by Administration. I know it’s early to be jumping up and down and yelling ‘rah rah’ with having only observed the performance at the 3rd meeting of the new City Council but these new guys (and gals) are asking more constructive questions and are not embarrassed by having to ask the questions because, as one Councillor remarked, “as a newbie perhaps I don’t understand, but….”, and asked the question anyway.
Council will soon be undertaking two very important roles of responsibility; the annual audit (how was the money managed in 2013) and the 2014 budgeting process (how will the money be managed in 2014). I expect to hear many ‘whys” and “how comes’ and “what was return on the taxpayers investment" and “are there better ways to do this”. Answers to these questions by Administration will assist Councillors with gaining the knowledge and experience they need to avoid mistakes and instill progression in the future.
I expect the new Council will be much more functional during the budgeting process and I highly doubt Administration will consider starting the process as they did in 2012/13.
Summary of 2013/14 proposed by budget numbers for debate.
Total revenue $28,437,597 (includes proposed tax increase of 14.2%) Less expenses $27,258,942 Proposed budget increase – $1,178,655 (14.2 %). Utilities stay at 9%.Proposed budget increase 2014 is likely in the range of 9-10%.
Property tax increase does not include utility tax increases. The new Council will also have to take into consideration during the budgeting process that in addition to a property tax increase for 2014, the homeowner and businesses will also be paying increased utility rates and increases in user fees for facilities, programs and services. Unfortunately, due to bad planning in the past and insignificant residential, economic and industrial growth, Wetaskiwin residents will be tightly squeezed in the financial sandwich for many years. The caution is to avoid unmanageable tax increases that will compound the problem. Each dollar paid in taxes is a dollar less for consumers to spend in retail and businesses enabling them to invest in growth and development.
During the audit and budgeting processes Council will have to consider new ways to lever the huge debt acquired by the Main Street Revitalization and the Aquatic Centre into increased revenue. And if this isn’t possible, how they can best mitigate the damage. What I expect to be hearing a lot of is down-to-earth factual hard core words; return on investment, expenses vs. revenue, why? can we do it differently and better?
As I mentioned in an editorial during the 2013/14 budgeting process “Ratepayers will not be happy with the announced tax increases as they look with envy at our neighbours’ modest increases of 3.9% in Leduc and 3.65% in Camrose.” I expect ratepayers will be watching closely as the new Council makes very difficult decisions during the next few months. But, if the new Council continues to ask informed questions, they will be making informed decisions. As one new councillor stated, “I may not be making decisions everyone, or even me, is happy with but I want to make decisions that are best for the City”.
First reading of Utility Levy Bylaws (November 25) first step to increasing utility costs. Second and third readings planned for December 9th.
City Administration explained increases to utility costs as follows: The approved 2014 Municipal Budget calls for rate increases in the water/sewer/waste management utility monthly service charges to fund ongoing operations and provide funds for capital improvements.
The first reading was given approval by Council with Jo Branco opposed.
Monthly water charges:
– From $ 22.65 to $26.00 for an increase of $3.35/month or $40.20 per year for the smallest pipe.
– From $272.30 to $312.85 for an increase of $40.55/month or $486.60 per year for largest pipe.
Monthly waste management charges:
– 121 liter toter/week – $16.25/month to $17.00/month for $0.75/month increase ($9.00/year).
– 242 litre toter/week – $32.50/month to $34.00/month for $1.50/month increase (($18/year).
– 363 litre toter/week – $48.75/month to $51.00/month for $2.25/month increase ($27/year).
Monthly Sewage charges:
Residential – single unit
– From $ 43.54 to $ 48.06 per month for an increase of $ 4.52 ($54.24 /year)
– Bi-monthly from $ 81.04 to $ 89.46 for an increase of
$ 8 .42 Cubic Meter from $ 0.551 to $ 0.608 for an increase of $ 0 .057.
Council requested a more detailed report on the collection and use of utility fees prior to the 2nd and 3rd readings of the bylaw proposed for the December 9th meeting of City Council.
For more information or comments contact City Manager Ted Gillespie at 780-361-4400.