Council looks for cuts in budget talks

Prince Albert City Hall/Daily Herald File Photo

Local Journalism Initiative

Council spent much of its first two days of budget discussions looking for little ways to trim expenses as they went line by line through the submissions put forward by staff.

Deliberations started early Nov. 17, with Coun. Don Cody apologizing to staff about the level digging council was preparing to do. 

“We are going to, in this budget, drill right down to the very root,” he said. “Don’t take offence. Administration should not feel we are going after anyone at all.” 

Council had asked staff ahead of time to break down each functional area’s revenue and expenses line by line. 

To start, administration said that they estimated the cost of COVID-19 on the city’s budget at about $2 million next year, a cost that was similar to the last two years. 

Changes to public health orders could play a big role, however, despite the fact the city is operating under the assumption that many things will return to normal next year.

In the initial proposal, council is looking at a taxation increase of $5.8 million. Some of that is projected to pay for things like a $1.8 million increase in wages and salaries and an increase of almost $1 million in maintenance materials and supplies. 

Council has spent the last two days, however, finding ways to cut and much of it was in the materials and supplies areas of each functional area along with some travel expenses. 

Large departments like police and fire have had very little changes made so far, with the police budget being put forward at $17 million and the fire budget also remaining virtually intact at $7.8 million. 

Councillors could not decide what to do with a request by the IT department to fund a reserve to the tune of $500,000 annually, an increase of $114,000 over 2021.

Council heard that the city need to spend about $4.5 million over the next 10 years to bring the information technology to modern standards. 

However, they were reluctant to make a decision and opted to delay until the end of this week’s budget discussions and see if they could find the extra money by cutting elsewhere. 

In order to make the changes, the department proposed one permanent position of a Network Systems Analyst and also hire two Business Systems Analysts for a one year term. 

When it comes to increasing revenues, several councilors eyed up potential revenue for the library from surrounding rural areas. 

“Their residents are paying on their library fee, yet they do not have a library. They come to Prince Albert,” said Ted Zurakowski. “The problem is the levies they are paying are going to other municipalities like Nipawin, Kinistino, Hudson Bay or Lakeland. For no benefit, they are paying all their taxation without represention and yet, they use our library.”

He was responding to a suggestion from Coun. Dawn Kilmer that rural residents be asked if they wanted their library levy on their taxes to go to the Prince Albert library rather than the Wapiti Regional Library. 

“The conversation we are having needs to be had,” said Zurakowski.  

The library’s budget request this year was $2.12 million, an increase of $47,000 over last year.

Discussions on the general budget started again on Nov. 18 and were planned to conclude on Saturday.