Budget passed: staff struggle to maintain service levels amidst inflation, spiking costs and falling revenues

By Chris Marchand

After months of drafts and difficult decisions, Dryden City Council approved a final draft of the 2012 budget by a vote of 4-2.

Councillors Ken Moss, Mel Fisher, Martin MacKinnon and Mary Trist voted to enact the document, while recently resigned councillor Mike Wood and councillor Brian Collins would not support the budget in its present form.

City Treasurer Linda McNaughton walked council through the coming year’s budget which trims close to $5 million (18 per cent) over 2011’s budget and could raise residential and commercial tax rates a maximum of 10 per cent.

McNaughton says the overriding goals of the budget process were to maintain service levels where possible within lower projected revenues and higher costs.

“It was, once again, a tough process with hard decisions about where our tax dollars are spent,” says McNaughton. “City services affect our lives every day and impact the quality of our lives. The 2012 budget process focused around needs, not wants — to ensure that the values and priorities we all share are realized.”

A five per cent tax increase would be enacted immediately while another five per cent remains contingent upon the results of a Section 40 assessment appeal from a large industrial ratepayer that is expected to deal the city a blow similar to that experienced in 2008, when such an appeal resulted in a 34 per cent ($850,000) decrease in the city’s large industrial sector taxation.

“It was an extremely heavy blow to the municipality in 2008,” said McNaughton. “Once again there will be another significant loss in assessment in 2012.”

Capital projects were pared down by 42 per cent, deferring 29 projects to future budgets. Among the city’s big ticket priorities are the completion of the Norwill and Centennial subdivisions. Phase one and two of arena renovations will also proceed contingent upon matching federal or provincial funds.

The Dryden Development Corporation will see an increase in funding to $422,000 (from $390,000 in 2011).

The Dryden Fire Service will replace water/ice rescue equipment. The Police Service will replace its prisoner van and a radio console. Connecting Link funding will see repairs to Duke St. among other projects.

Outgoing councillor Mike Wood suggested the city examine hiking user fees as a way to address dwindling revenues. User fees were hiked five per cent across the board in 2011.

“Costs are rising,” said Wood. “Why would we not try to keep pace with inflation and increased costs on those services for which we charge a user fee? It just seems unsustainable.”

Following the vote, city manager Joe van Koeverden addressed what appears to be a deeply divided council on moving forward.

“In my first six months here, I’ve seen a lot of what I’d call ‘the brutal reality’ of the situation of the city,” said van Koeverden. “I think this is a time to work together to recognize the current state and the things that we need to do — maybe put aside some personal agendas for the projects that we have. We really need to take a look at what Dryden needs to move forward and what we need to do together to make this a success. I think we’re ready to move forward. We just need everybody’s support and the public’s realization that it’s not going to be an easy road as we work toward righting our ship, getting a more diverse economy and taking good advantage of the new opportunities coming our way, things like Treasury Metals and so forth.”

 

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