Council talk timing of budget, figures to come before town in late March

 

Town Logo Small-webBy Ron Giofu

 

It appears the first time town council will see preliminary budget figures will be March 24 but some councillors want to get started much sooner than that.

Councillor Diane Pouget tried to make a motion to start budget deliberations in mid-February but that motion lost in a 3-3 tie vote Monday night. Pouget, Councillor Bart DiPasquale and Deputy Mayor Ron Sutherland voted in favour while Mayor Wayne Hurst, Councillor Bob Pillon and Councillor John Sutton opposed. Councillor Carolyn Davies was absent from Monday night’s meeting.

Pouget said the budget was almost done by this point last year and said it was “very, very important” to sit down in open session and begin this year’s process.

“We have to start cutting costs now,” she said, adding they can set further budget sessions once they meet for a first time.

Sutton believed they could exacerbate the problems the town is in if they base 2014 figures on incomplete data.

“I would want to make sure the information we receive for cost comparisons is detailed and accurate,” said Sutton.

Sutton added they have to have firm dates of when to meet so they could each make room in their personal schedules.

Pouget said many first read about the delay until late-March in last week’s issue of the River Town Times and that the town has to “proceed with what we have” and not drag things out further.

Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Mike Phipps told council he sent out an e-mail to council members Jan. 20 advising it wouldn’t be until the end of March when administration would be ready to present the elected officials with the first look at the budget. He noted that five of seven council members have since booked vacations between now and March 24.

“That seemed to flow nicely within the time frames we had set out,” said Phipps.

There were some “scary” numbers laid out in the Dec. 17 budget session, he added, but administration is still trying to bring down the proposed tax increase. Phipps noted after the meeting they have whittled down the initial tax increase but the current figure still sits in the double-digit range. His preference is to phase in increases to make it more acceptable but said there are a lot of uncontrollable costs. He believed they may be able to bring a single-digit number to council in late-March.

An offer from Entegrus on the town’s share in Essex Power could come as well and that would have an impact on budget discussions.

Pouget said it was “unacceptable” to have to wait until late-March, adding the town can’t delay things on a potential offer from Entegrus.

“We’ve got to get things moving and we’ve got to get things moving fast,” she said.

Pillon didn’t believe ratepayers would be impacted negatively if they waited until late-March. He said he would “love to get this over with too” but the situation is different this time.

“These are extremely different circumstances,” he said.

Pillon suspected the Texas Road project will be “gone” for 2014 and that administration has to find other items to cut out of the budget before presenting it to town council.

Phipps said they are trying to identify items to remove and right now there are no capital projects. If capital works projects were to be inserted, he suspected they would have to be paid through debentures thus issuing more debt. While costs have been cut since the Dec. 17 meeting, other items have been discovered that the town has to deal with, he said.

“We’re working away, trying to cut down,” he said, adding that regular meetings are held to try and find a more “palatable” number to bring to council.

“Our finances are still a challenge but they can be overcome with council working together,” he said.

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