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EDITORIAL: Municipal budgets feature tough decisions for new councils

Newly elected municipal councils will have its first important task less than a month on the job. Meeting, deciding and finalizing the annual budget. It can be dry, feature long and monotonous hours, multiple presentations and often end with tough
November 4, 2021
Cartoon by Patrick LaMontagne/www.lamontagneart.com.

Newly elected municipal councils will have their first important task less than a month on the job.

Meeting, deciding and finalizing the annual budget.

It can be dry, feature long and monotonous hours, multiple presentations and often end with tough contentious decisions. But there is no greater task for a council to complete.

And new councillors – with the Bow Valley seeing nine of the 19 elected officials fresh at the table after the Oct. 18 municipal election – are immediately thrown into the mix.

Valley communities are facing difficult choices, particularly as governments plan for a post-COVID-19 world, which has heavily impacted the largely tourism based economy.

Further complicating matters is the provincial cutting of the Municipal Sustainability Initiative – a pivotal source of money for capital projects – and replacing it with the Local Government Fiscal Framework. The change sees a reduction of funding by 25 per cent, meaning likely cuts at the local level, delays in capital projects or finding funds elsewhere.

The provincial and federal governments may be more spend happy to assist with infrastructure needs to assist the COVID-19 recovery, but there are few certainties until cheques start arriving.

Inflation has skyrocketed in the past year, food prices have jumped and gas may soon require a return to layaway payments for a region that already struggles with maintaining a level of affordability for residents.

Councils will do their part in addressing the affordability issues in attempting to limit the increases for property taxes, which also affect rental prices, while also maintaining a high level of services for residents.

However, significant aspects of the budget are already decided, with little to no input available for councils.

Emergency services, utility costs, insurance, water and wastewater, garbage and recycling removal, and debt retention can be inked into the budget years down the road. Officials may grumble, but many expenses can be set in stone and unable to change.

When it comes to the wants and needs of community groups that lobby for additional services, all councils are aware – or soon will be – it is impossible to please everyone.

Especially coming off a recent campaign when municipal candidates heard of residents' needs for their respective communities, some people are likely to be disappointed.

To the casual watcher of municipal politics, it may seem the process is quickly done, but the work is continuously done throughout the year and about to be put into hyperdrive.

Municipal departments treat the budget as a living document, tweaked and tinkered during the year as changes and circumstances arise.

Following several budget meetings with council, the final draft is presented and adopted later in the year or potentially early in 2022 because of the municipal election. The tax rate is presented and passed in early spring, but again, the amount of education taxes is out of municipal hands but applied on property taxes.

Despite a municipal council not having as much say in many aspects of its overall budget, there’s no greater responsibility in finalizing the document.

The opening paragraph in the Municipal Government Act states the goal of municipalities is to “provide responsible and accountable local governance in order to create and sustain safe and viable communities.”

The budget is a councils time to complete the work in attaining that goal.


Rocky Mountain Outlook

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