At its Feb. 13 meeting, Peace River, AB town council approved both its operating and utility Budgets for 2023.
Administration and council chose to start creating separate budgets for tax supported and utility supported operating budges. Mayor Elaine Manzer says the creation of two budgets will allow for more transparency moving forward.
“The basic premise is that the users of the utility should be the ones who pay for the utility they use,” Manzer says.
“Council decided to separate the utility fee supported budget from the operations and capital budgets that are supported by tax dollars to better differentiate the users and the expenses associated with the utility,” she adds.
Manzer explains many municipalities are moving toward a cost recovery method for their utilities. She says it helps make the costs of operating the utility both for its operating and capital infrastructure costs more transparent.
“For Peace River, the separation of the utility budget from the tax supported budget allows the utility service to become self supporting and the premise is that the utility cost will no longer be part of the tax supported budget,” she says.
“The mill rate could be impacted as it will not be affected by the utility costs or utility revenues.” Notable changes to this year’s in-house budget include federal increases to both Canadian Pension Plan and Employee taxes and also a significant 12 per cent increase to Sun Life Insurance premiums.
Peace River’s staffing will get a boost with the addition of a full-time equivalent position being added to Corporate Services Human Resources. “The Town employs about 60 full time staff and has another 60-70 casual or part-time or seasonal staff,” Manzer says.
“As with other employers we have staff leaving for a variety of reasons and new staff being hired. The number of staff that change each year, require a lot of work for each individual from forms, advertising, reference checking, orienting to the position as well as tracking health and safety training.”
Manzer says when the organizational review was completed last year Human Resources was found to be understaffed. She says to help with current expectations of changing individual staff and to make the process as quick and as smooth as possible, the decision was to hire the extra employee to work in the department.
Council has also decided to add $81,500 for the Economic Development Committee.
“After this council was elected, one of the elements in the 2022-2025 Strategic Plan that was approved included a goal of a robust and sustainable economy which included exploring options to maintain business in our community,” Manzer explains.
“Working with public members on the Economic Development Committee is one of the ways the council has chosen to work towards these goals. The figure of $81 500 was brought to council by the Economic Development Committee when they discussed some of the strategies, they will be working on in 2023 to attain the goals of the Strategic Plan.”
A pool life cycle study will be undertaken in 2023 to the tune of $35,000, helping to create a plan for the future and to provide information about the state of the pool infrastructure.
“The study will help to answer the question of life expectancy of various parts of the present pool including the building itself,” says Manzer. “Once the study is done, the council and public will have an opportunity to review it and be better positioned to plan for the future for the pool which is the only year-around pool within 50 km and which is well-used by all ages.”
Also in the works is a $60,000 touch dedicated to conducting a downtown revitalization plan. The town is focusing on the future, ensuring their website and communications are updated with a $70,000 upgrade.
“Council has been informed that the website is outdated and the systems that run it behind the scenes no longer work or no longer work optimally,” Manzer explains.
“To improve communications and since social media is such an important part of communications, it was decided to approve a new website. As with all technology, there seems to be point when the updates no longer work effectively.”
Grants to Groups funds was restored with funding budgeted up to $35,000.
“The ability to access funding from various sources is important to many groups in town who host events both for their members and for many visitors,” she explains.
“Council has approved the allocation within the budget but will be reviewing the policy under which the grants operate to determine the criteria for obtaining grant funds.”
The total revenues and expenses included in this budget is $23,954,150. Included in expenses is $2,124,900 in contributions to capital to fund current and future year capital needs and $844,640 of repayment on long term debt. No increased debt is included in this budget.
In the Utility Supported Operating Budget, council approved of a five per cent increate to all utility fees from 2022.
“The Town’s expenses are affected by cost-of-living pressures, costs of services and materials that it needs to buy to operate its various services and this is a move towards having the utilities become self sustaining including planning for future infrastructure needs,” explains Manzer.
“The plan is to have the fees along with some grants from other levels of government cover the present and future needs of the utility’s infrastructure.”
Major utility projects planned for 2023 include fire hydrant replacements, work in the water treatment and waster water treatment plants, work on lift stations and storm water values. Also in future plans are major projects including constructing Lift Station 7, planning and construction of a replacement water reservoir and ongoing work at the wastewater treatment plants.
Manzer explains those projects are dependent upon some life cycle expectations, funding from the utility fees and government grants.
The total revenue and expense included in the Utility Supported Operating budget is $7,504,070. Included in expenses is $1,091,610 in contributions to capital to fund current and future year capital needs, and $988,580 of repayment on long term debt. The budget does not include amortization expense or anticipated revenue for capital from third parties.
The complete budget can be obtained by visiting the Town of Peace River’s website at www.peaceriver.ca
By Emily Plihal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Mar 02, 2023
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