Budget talks begin with few cuts

Tyler
Tyler Clarke
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Mayor Greg Dionne shares a laugh with fellow councillors during Thursday’s budget committee meeting. The city will continue discussions on Friday, during a full day budget committee meeting set to begin at 8 a.m. 

This year’s city budget committee meetings began the same as last year’s -- with pay increases to mayor and council.

 

Prior to last year’s $31,000 increase to the city council budget, Coun. Martin Ring urged council to set a precedent for the balance of the meeting by going without a pay increase.

No such caution as issued on Thursday, with council unanimously voting in favour of a $27,030 increase, without any discussion.

“That was approved last year, so we’re just cleaning the books,” Mayor Greg Dionne said after the meeting. “We actually did four or five approvals last year and it wasn’t put it in the budget, so now it goes in the budget.”

The mayor’s pay is getting bumped by $4,810 to $88,710, and councillors’ pay is jumping a combined total of $18,140.

Divided among eight councillors, the remuneration increase equates a raise of about $2,267.50, each.

The balance of city council’s increase is related to vehicle and cellphone allowances. Dionne explained that it’s less expensive for administration to reimburse elected officials for cellphone and vehicle use than it would be to supply them with phones and vehicles.

Poring through 21 pages of the 42-page budget committee agenda during Thursday’s meeting with very few alterations, Dionne said that he remains keen on bringing the budget in lower than the 4.5 per cent city administration has recommended.

Cuts to the city administration-proposed budget made on Thursday include a $45,000 telestaff software purchase for the fire department, a $5,000 paint job at the Prince Albert Arts Centre, and a $10,000 track paint job at the Alfred Jenkins Field House.

Dionne said that there is “no” chance of the tax increase getting bumped higher than the 4.5 per cent increase during Friday’s budget committee meeting.

“We’re looking for lower. For something to get higher, they’d really have to convince us there’s a demand or a need.”

We’re looking for lower. For something to get higher, they’d really have to convince us there’s a demand or a need. Mayor Greg Dionne, on city administration's 4.5 per cent proposed tax increase

Reflecting on Thursday’s meeting, he admitted that city council hasn’t been very successful in paring down city administration’s proposed budget so far, but that he has higher hopes for Friday’s meeting.

Friday’s meeting will begin in council chambers at 8 a.m. and centre on public works, external agency requests, fleet equipment, capital budget projects and general government -- “Bigger items” that might find greater cost savings than Thursday’s items did, Dionne concluded.

Thursday’s meeting was sprinkled with a combination of budget increase and decreases, as outlined by members of the city administration, who in many instances found ways to cut expenses.

Dionne’s request that departments cut 15 per cent of fuel and electrical consumption accounts for some of the decreases, while other decreases also came at the direction of council.

A new natural gas contract that council approved last year will also result in savings at several city-owned building. Last year, administration estimated that the new contract will see the city’s natural gas bill drop by about $400,000 compared with the previous year.

The city’s advertising budget is dropping by $16,900 as per a council-driven advertising review, and the city’s floral displays budget is dropping by $15,130 to $22,870 -- an area Coun. Lee Atkinson was instrument in having funding decrease.

The Daily Herald will provide a comprehensive list of everything council approved within the 2014 budget once the budget process is complete.

So far, all decisions are tentative until they’re firmed up with an official vote at a future city council meeting with the city’s 2014 budget anticipated to be in stone within the next month. 

Organizations: Prince Albert Arts Centre, Alfred Jenkins Field House, Daily Herald

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