Town begins 2023 budget discussions during special council meeting

The Town of Strathmore held a special meeting of council, Nov. 7 to discuss the 2023 budget, presented by town administration.

Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Kevin Scoble opened the presentation, acknowledging the financial challenges many are experiencing as recovery efforts following the COVID-19 pandemic continue.

“Administration recognizes this is a difficult time for residents and businesses, as we have all been challenged with seven to eight per cent inflation and recovery from the pandemic this past year,” he said. “We will still feel the impacts of these in the next year and perhaps for a few more years to come.”

Coming into the 2023 budget, Scoble added town administration has put significant effort towards pandemic recovery and inflation considerations. Additionally, an onus has been placed on mitigating historical debt challenges.

Administration undertook a comprehensive review of the Town’s expenses to find significant cost savings and efficiencies, while not compromising on programs and services, indicated as important by residents in the recent citizen satisfaction survey.

During the presentation, administration proposed a 4.9 per cent total tax increase for both residents and for businesses.

For reference and comparison, 2020 and 2022 tax increases were 3.9 per cent and 5.9 per cent respectively, applying to both residents and to businesses.

According to Scoble, a prudent approach has ben taken to continue current programs and services, and maintain current infrastructure, while not undertaking any significant capital works, new initiatives or programs.

“From a financial perspective, we are focussed on maintaining service existing levels, reducing debt, building up reserves, and supporting the strategic plan,” he said.

Administration’s budget presentation suggested no plans to reduce funding to service level groups, instead opting to increase the allotted budget for them to account for inflationary increases in order to support affected groups.

Overall, the town’s budget has been constructed around the 2022-2025 strategic plan, which was published in August, as well as discovering opportunities to redeploy funds to priority areas.

Kara Rusk, director of strategic, administrative and financial services for the Town, said the proposed budget is accounting for a $775,000 increase in municipal taxes, plus a conservative $215,000 tax revenue estimate from the new solar farm.

“Franchise fees revenue was increased because they were previously underestimated in the prior budget. We have not increased the franchise fees percentage charge going forward, we simply corrected it to align with what we can expect moving forward,” she added.

The Town has budgeted for an $80,000 revenue increase from its investments (unspecified), as well as for MSI grant funding throughout 2023, taking into account an $812,000 reduction.

Regarding expenses, the town budget recommended a 2.4 per cent total increase towards wages and benefits over the 2022 budget. The intent with the change is to keep Strathmore competitive and to keep pace with inflation for its employees.

Administration is expecting the proposed budget would allow for a $300,000 global debt reduction over 2022 budget projections.

A total of $40,000 less is being budgeted for conferences, travel and subsistence expenses, and a $50,000 reduction for training fees (unspecified) was also proposed for implementation.

More details regarding the budget are available through the town website, as well as the Nov. 7 special council meeting recording.

Council’s Nov. 7 meeting represented the first step in the Town’s budget process for the upcoming year and has not been finalized.

John Watson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times