Municipal councils looking for savings as provincial cuts loom

Innisfail town council freezes its pay and Lacombe considering 0% tax increase

Alberta’s tough economic times have prompted a council wage freeze in Innisfail, while Lacombe is considering holding the line on taxes.

This week, Innisfail’s council approved the wage freeze for 2020 and 2021 that had been proposed by a three-citizen remuneration committee. The town’s wage scale was compared with 10 other municipalities.

“The committee members all shared concerns with the recent provincial budget and current economic uncertainty,” says a report to council from Heather Whymark, director of corporate services.

“They did not feel it is appropriate to increase council’s remuneration at this time.”

Mayor Jim Romane receives $2,700 monthly and councillors get $1,300. Council members also receive $105 for a half-day meeting and $210 for a full-day session.

Lacombe council also wrestled with finances, given the economic climate, at its Tuesday evening meeting.

Council was looking at a proposed 1.4 per cent tax boost, which is in keeping with a policy to tie budget increases to the consumer price index.

Chief administrative officer Matthew Goudy said the provincial budget has had a $400,000 impact on the city’s finances this year and additional funding cuts are expected next year.

Coun. Reuben Konnik proposed a motion, which was unanimously supported, to look at other options, including a property tax freeze, rather than a 1.4 per cent increase.

“I think, quite frankly, we can do better. I’d really like to see what a zero per cent tax increase looks like.

“I think we owe it to our constituents.”

Konnik there are options for saving money, such as trimming cost-of-living increases for staff to 0.9 per cent from the proposed 1.4 per cent, or less money could be set aside in reserves.

“Times are still tough out there,” he said, point to recent statistics showing insolvencies and bankruptcies are at 20-year highs.

Konnik said while the proposed tax increases are not high — $42 extra on an average $380,000 home — many public sector workers and other employees are likely to see wage freezes and rollbacks in the future.

“I know it’s not a lot of money,” he said of proposed property tax increases. “I get that, and I’m not saying we need to do it every year.

”But for one time, I’d like to be able to say to citizens, ‘You know what — your property taxes aren’t going up next year.”

Konnik said he would like to see what impact a tax freeze and a 0.9 per cent tax increase would have on the budget.

Coun. Chris Ross questioned reopening the budget, saying council should be consistent in tying tax increases to the consumer price index.

Some services, such as BOLT transit, have already been axed, he said.

As well, earlier in the budget process, council voted to freeze its wages.

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