By VERNA MURPHY, Connect Contributor
The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo’s 2016 Proposed Capital Budget is currently being negotiated among mayor and council.
The 596 page document will see $982M being spent in the coming year, with $520M going to the operating budget. The capital budget will retain the rest of the $462M.
Executive Director of Corporate Services, Elsie Hutton said the budget reflects the local economic conditions, since it is slightly smaller than last year’s budget.
Because the municipality takes a revenue neutral approach (and has a fluctuating tax rate), there will be no inflation of the residential or industry tax rates. The only new tax increase will be with new construction growth in the area.
Going into budget week, the municipality found that our municipality won the Distinguished Budget Presentation Award for the fifth year in a row – only eight of the awards were granted in Alberta this year.
Pat Sibilleau, a manager in Financial Planning said the municipality wanted a well-presented budget document. During a meeting prior to council with media on November 3, Sibilleau said it was designed to show transparency and to show the municipality was being accountable with taxpayers’ dollars.
After the budget overview was presented to council on November 3, four days of budget workshops took place in the municipal building. All of the sessions were open to the public, and delegates could also start the day by getting up with any questions or points they wanted to make regarding any budget requests, or on anything in general.
Many groups from the community came forward with budget requests during the first day, such as the YMCA, the Fort McMurray Historical Society, and the local Hero program for our medivac system. One of the largest requests came from the Regional Recreation Corporation, with one single request for MacDonald Island coming in around $14.5 million, with a few smaller capital grant requests as well.
Over the last year, the RMWB has made the decision to take some services “in house”.
One example is with transit. The outside contract for transit was cancelled because new busses and some shelters will have to be bought and the budget for the transit department is significantly higher than last year. The $37M budget for this department should not be as high in future and once the initial capital costs are done.
Each department in the municipality presented their budgets in easy-to-follow presentations. When the presentations completed, Mayor Melissa Blake and the councillors were granted the opportunity to ask questions for clarification on each presentation, or ask about the costs associated with the department.
After the Human Resources presentation, Councillor Sheldon Germain had several pointed questions about the size of administration – both in relation to the population and the size of the city. Germain wanted to know, whether or not the budgets were on track or not, as there is no benchmark to compare.
The department is hoping to do a survey in the coming year to talk about the workplace environment of the employees of the municipality and they also hope to attend and hold more union meetings so issues that may come up can be addressed immediately.
Councillor Germain felt frustrated that he had asked some of the same questions last year and felt that there has been no progress. He wants municipal employees to feel valued and to have a healthy workplace environment.
The presentations also showed that the Mayor and council itself has been setting an example of their spending for the public and for the municipality. Most of them have not used their travel or have even been submitting for out of pocket expenses associated with their positions. They have all been extremely frugal and their budget was actually reduced by $38,000 over last year’s budget.
Also, the legal department shared they have had a huge increase in the number of FOIP (Freedom of Information) requests in the last year. This means more residents are asking questions about the government and getting more engaged.
The final approval of the budget is scheduled to take place on December 8, 2015, during the regular council meeting. All of the presentations for the budget document are available to view at www.rmwb.ca.
– Connect Weekly –