Council passes frugal budget

Mayor Andrew Cassidy says administration was challenged to reduce expenses.

Mayor Andrew Cassidy says administration was challenged to reduce expenses.

Hay River’s town council voted to hold tight to its purse strings for another year as it passed the municipality’s operating and maintenance budget for 2014 on Dec. 23.

However, the details of the most salient fiscal change have yet to be hammered out.

Opposed only by Coun. Brad Mapes, the budget includes a two-per-cent tax increase – representing approximately $80,000 in increased revenue over the course of a year – but also a two-per-cent reduction in spending across the board for the municipal administration, which would tally about $160,000.

“Council recognizes that we have to look at various ways to raise funds and see some savings,” Mayor Andrew Cassidy told The Hub. “We wanted to ensure we weren’t raising expenses at the same time as taxes, and we challenged administration to find ways to reduce those expenses.”

Mill rates are typically discussed in a meeting in the spring, at which time the tax increase will be implemented, said Cassidy. He also indicated that administration should have a proposal to cut the two per cent from their operating budget for council’s perusal at that time.

According to Cassidy, the savings would likely come from a reduction in labour costs. However, decisions on things like the level of staffing at town facilities and overtime have yet to be made and would have to be weighed against potential impacts on services.

“There are things like fuel costs you can’t do much about,” he said. “But wages can be tweaked to make sure we’re realizing some savings and also keeping a good level of service.”

Cassidy said the tax increase was basically in order to stay with the times. With the costs for everything from fuel and electricity to various services increasing, the municipality has to keep up as well.

“We’re just letting the community know that we’re prepared to match their contribution percentage-wise,” he said.

Senior Administrative Officer David Steele said in council that a draft of the town’s 2014 capital budget should be ready to present to council sometime in January. He noted that many of the projects that had been planned for 2013 were not carried out and would have to be rolled into the coming year’s budget.

“I think the capital budget still needs some work,” said deputy mayor Donna Lee Jungkind. “I’d like to see a meeting set up in early January, just to work out some things.”

Cassidy noted that while many of the big-ticket items from 2013 – such as renovations to the Don Stewart Recreation Centre – will carry over to the new budget, there are other items that he hopes to see make their first appearance, such as the future of the less-than-adequate town hall.

“We have requirements moving forward, like the rec centre and town hall and other infrastructure projects,” he said. “And we need to find ways to make them happen through increasing revenue opportunities and reducing costs at the same time.”

— Sarah Ladik