Restraint the order of day as city budget talks set to kick off

Red Deer Mayor Morris Flewwelling has one word to describe this year’s lean draft operational budget.

Red Deer Mayor Morris Flewwelling has one word to describe this year’s lean draft operational budget.

“Restraint,” said Flewwelling on Monday. “Every aspect of our operation has been asked to use restraint as much as possible, and that applies to council as well.” He and eight other members of city council will start grappling over the 2011 draft operating budget in council chambers today and determining whether more needs to be spent or cut.

City council could spend up to eight days reviewing budgets of 17 municipal departments, plus organizations like the Red Deer Museum and Art Gallery that receive their core funding through the city. For the first time, council asked staff to look into their base budgets and decide where they could make, save or change the money within them. Those items will be up for discussion by council.

One item the city has no control over is the RCMP contract — one of the most expensive items in the budget. The police force is asking for about $850,000 more this year. Last year’s contract was $15.1 million.

“We’d like to put more officers in but right now, the situation is hold the line,” said Flewwelling.

The city will also have to swallow unpaid fines for speeding and other traffic infractions.

“We’re down about $300,000 on that, money we should be able to collect (through vehicle registrations and driver licences),” said Flewwelling. “But people just drive without licences and registration.”

Administration has also asked for $600,000 more in the snow and ice control budget — $100,000 more into the overall budget plus, for the first time, a reserve fund of $400,000, and $100,000 for additional clearing at bus stops. Last year’s budget was $2.18 million.

Flewwelling said the city is expecting to save about $300,000 by not filling certain vacant jobs, which are no longer needed because growth has slowed.

Another expected cost saver: no longer handing out a couple of $5 coupons for a free trip to the landfill. Flewwelling said this would save the city $60,000.

Flewwelling said it is important for the city to be conservative in its spending this year, particularly when members of the public called for it during a budget open house last spring.

Department heads kept that in mind before sending their proposed budgets to city manager Craig Curtis.

“This is the budget that the administration has developed to accomplish what they think council wants them to do,” Flewwelling said.

Last year, Red Deer taxpayers faced a tax hike of 3.31 per cent, one of the lowest municipal property tax increases in more than a decade, after council finalized the operational budget at $232.7 million.

In November, administration recommended a capital budget of $87 million and by the time council was finished reviewing it, few changes were made.

Council approved cutting back on vehicle purchases in 2011, as well as delaying the spending of $52,000 on a parade float. This resulted in further trimming the capital budget by just over $700,000 — bringing the final capital budget tally to $86,271,000. Last year’s approved capital project was at nearly $107 million and in 2009, it was considerably higher at nearly $473 million.