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Town looks for budget input

Residents who would like to have a say in the 2024 budget deliberations have an opportunity to do so by using the Town’s new online tool called the Citizen’s Budget Program.

Jennifer Stone, Intergovernmental Relations and Communications with the Town, says the program was approved as part of the 2023 budget. She says this program is something that is being used by many other municipalities. Seeing its success in other communities, Stone approached Council with it for the 2023 budget deliberations.

“It’s a way to gather public feedback for council,” she says. “So, when we’re looking at and considering things for the 2024 budget, this gives us a really good idea of what taxpayers and residents of Drayton Valley believe to be important to them.”

The tool, which is found on the Town’s website, gives a breakdown of how the residents’ taxes are spent. There are 14 categories for spending, including RCMP, Town Council, the Library, Outdoor Recreation, and the Aquatic Centre, among others.

Participants also have the opportunity to leave comments with suggestions for each of the areas of expenditure.

Once the participant sees the way money is allocated, they can then proceed through a series of questions that will allow them to choose how they would prefer their taxes be spent. While council will be considering the information, Stone says the tool is only in place to make things more democratic and give the council an overall idea of the preferences of the majority.

“It helps guide council’s decisions when they’re deliberating the budget,” says Stone.

She says the municipal government always has to balance its budget. This means if one area sees an increase in spending, another area must see a decrease.

Stone says she hopes this program will help residents understand the reasoning and limitations within the budget. “It gives people a really good idea of the complexity of building a budget,” she says. “It’s not an endless amount of money to play with.”

She says some services the Town offers are easily visible to residents, such as the current construction on 50 Avenue. However, there are also many services that aren’t visible, and many may not be aware of, like the costs of the programs used by the finance team and funds used for public communications.

“I’m quite excited about it because I think it gives a lot of insight. And feedback is really important and really valuable,” she says.

Stone says the program is a great place to host discussions about the budget. She says the comments are similar to the ones sometimes expressed on social media, but with the program, they are all in one place and focused on one issue.

The convenience of having it online makes things easier for many residents. In the past, Stone says they have set up at local events such as the Farmer’s Market or held public meetings inviting people to give their input. Unfortunately, given the many different schedules of workers in the municipality, not everyone could make these.

Now that it’s online, residents can fill it out whenever they have time. Stone says she’s seen that some residents have been doing it in the middle of the night.

Those who want to give their input have until October 6 so that administration has time to put the feedback together for council to consider before their deliberations.

Amanda Jeffery, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Drayton Valley and District Free Press