With the city facing a proposed 10 per cent utility budget increase, Coun. Charlene Miller wants some of the increase pushed to the general fund, where she said it belongs.
During Monday’s executive committee meeting, Miller said that she wants to see about $600,000 being charged to the utility fund transferred to the general fund -- a move that would represent a 2.5 per cent tax increase.
“I am not going to be in favour of going up 10 per cent in the utility,” she said during the meeting. “I feel that the money going … into the general fund from the utility should stay in the utility.”
The $600,000 in question represents a percentage of various wages indicative of the approximate time administration and staff spend on the utility, Mayor Greg Dionne explained after the meeting.
Included in this formula are a handful of city departments, whose members have a fraction of their wages and benefits pulled from the utility fund.
“Whoever works on the utility, that share of their salary is charged to the utility,” Dionne summarized. “It’s just a fair way to do it, instead of having it in the general fund.”
The affected departments include the following; city manager, solicitor, mayor, human resources, communications, finance, purchasing, clerks, occupational health and safety, information and technology and City Hall maintenance.
“The utility fund could hire someone else for $600,000, but we have the staff and they’re knowledgeable of the system, and that’s why it’s there,” city manager Robert Cotterill said.
Miller’s idea that these costs should be included in the general fund “breaks with our philosophy of user pay,” Dionne said. “At the end of the day, it’s user pay.”
But what about the city police budget, Atkinson challenged. Is there any city administration time allocated within that budget, as is being done with the utility fund?
“No, they’re currently not, but that wouldn’t change how it funds, because the police budget is funded by the general fund,” Cotterill said. “All the other operations are funded by the general fund, so it wouldn’t impact the taxpayer … It’s just how you want to account for it.”
I am not going to be in favour of going up 10 per cent in the utility. I feel that the money going … into the general fund from the utility should stay in the utility. - Coun. Charlene Miller
Miller’s proposal would also “artificially lower the rural water rate, strictly because this cost, now, won’t be charged to them,” Cotterill said.
Sticking to her guns, Miller voted against the motion to approve the 2013 water utility operating fund budget, including operating revenues of $12.6 million and expenses of $10.1 million, the balance of which funding capital projects and loan principle payments.
“My overall motto that I want to do is (that) infrastructure should pay for infrastructure, so keep it for the utility, and there’s where it needs to be,” she said after the meeting.
With Monday’s meeting being of the executive committee, all council decisions were tentative, pending approval during the Monday, Jan. 28 city council meeting.
During this upcoming city council meeting the city’s elected officials will have a utility rate structure in front of them to consider, Cotterill said.
On Wednesday, Jan. 16, the city’s elected officials spent the day discussing the utility fund among themselves and city administration -- discussions that included the challenges that they will face this year, including but not limited to aging infrastructure.
Several displays the city’s elected officials looked at will be brought to the State of the City Address, to be presented by Dionne at the Art Hauser Centre on Thursday.
Dionne is also expected to address the 10 per cent utility budget increase, which he said after Mondays’ meeting will “go up across the board, simply because of our infrastructure costs.”