Rocky View's 2022 Budget
From our perspective, Rocky View’s budget process has never been great, but this year’s version was less impressive than usual.
The County’s 2022 total budget is projected to be $197.4 million. Excluding the $52.9 million collected for “external requisitions” (mainly provincial education taxes), the County’s revenues and expenses will be $144.5 million, which includes the 4% tax increase ($4.2 million).
Missing the forest for the trees
In our opinion, Administration’s current approach of presenting detailed budgets from department after department biases the discussion towards the minutia rather than the big picture. As a result, far too much of Council’s time was focused on minor details, leaving little time or energy for more substantive discussion. Council approved four relatively minor amendments to Administration’s budget.
Fees for dog licenses will be reinstated starting in January 2023 (with anticipated revenues of $100,000). We never understood why the previous council removed these fees since the fees generate help cover the costs of reuniting residents with their dogs.
Mosquito control in Langdon and Church Ranches came up again this year. In last year’s budget discussion, council decided to end this program, but gave a year’s grace to permit the affected communities to make alternative arrangements. Based on that direction, Administration eliminated the $51,000 for this program in the 2022 budget. Councillor Schule raised concerns about its elimination and made a motion to continue the mosquito larva control program. After some discussion, his motion was tabled to permit Administration to determine if there are other communities interested in the program and to come back with costing alternatives.
Councillor Schule also featured in the most controversial, if smallest dollar value, budget adjustment approved by Council. As another cost-cutting decision in last year’s budget, snow removal on public sidewalks adjacent to private property was eliminated. This affected Langdon, Harmony, Watermark, Cochrane Lakes, and East Balzac. At their December 7th meeting, council approved Schule’s motion asking Administration to report back as part of the 2022 budget on the cost to recommence snow clearing on a two-block section of sidewalk in central Langdon. At both that meeting and the January budget meeting, where Administration indicated the cost would be $5,000, Schule advocated strongly to reinstate this snow clearing. However, when challenged by Wright as having a pecuniary interest in the decision since he owns property along those two blocks in Langdon, Schule recused himself from the actual vote, which passed 4 – 2 (with Wright and Kissel opposed). By deeming that these two blocks of sidewalk are really part of the public pathway network in Langdon, its snow clearing “magically” became part of the pathway budget. Whether or not that was a reasonable decision, we believe that Schule’s participation in the discussion was not appropriate. The Municipal Government Act is clear that councillors must recuse themselves from all discussion and voting on issues in which they have a pecuniary interest, with no dollar limits on those pecuniary interests.
The most substantive of council’s changes was to direct Administration to take $500,000 out of the County’s reserve for small-scale stormwater projects. In response to questions from Councillor Hanson, Administration confirmed that $577,000 had been set aside in earlier years for such projects, but never spent. Administration had recommended not funding any of these projects for the third year in a row. With $500,000 released from the reserve, Council will be able fund at least some of the over 30 projects that have been pending for years. We all know that stormwater issues are problematic throughout the County. It was good to see Council pushing to have some of them addressed.
No opportunity for public input
Boehlke, with support from Wright, expressed frustration with the lack of public participation at the budget meeting. It was apparent that, like us, they assumed it had become a standard part of their annual budget process. When quizzed on the lack of public input, Administration responded that the public had an opportunity to provide input in July when they asked people “how the County was doing”. In our opinion, a two-week window in summer does not substitute for an opportunity to provide input on the actual budget. If nothing else, residents should have an opportunity to raise their concerns and comments about the budget in a forum where council can hear what they have to say.
Opportunity to improve for 2023
We hope that council directs Administration to make substantial improvements for the 2023 budget process. With a new CAO in place, they will have the opportunity to make substantive improvements since the 2023 budget will be completely under their direction. In our opinion, improvements are badly needed to improve the County’s financial accountability, something that was promised in the election campaign by most on council.
Council will finalize the budget in late March – early April once the annual updating of the property assessment rolls is complete and once the Province has announced how much it needs in the way of education taxes. At that point, Council will make any adjustments to the budget that they decide are necessary and set the property tax rates.