City of Lacombe passes $43 million budget, scales back police reduction

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Lacombe city council has officially passed a $43.6-million provisional operating budget for 2019.

During their regular meeting, council approved the budget and secured a 2.8 per cent property tax rate increase for ratepayers in 2019 – meaning an additional $86.94 increase on the average home assessed at $371,748.

“Council believes this is a prudent and realistic budget, responsive to the needs and preferences of our citizens,” said Mayor Grant Creasey. “It allows the city to keep pace with the rising cost of service delivery without placing undue burden on taxpayers.”

Key budget highlights include an overall increase of $8,169,201 over last year’s budget, as well an increase to city reserves, and $2.5 million in debt repayments. There’s also been an increase to funding for parks and playgrounds and grants to external groups, as well as money allocated to the growth and maintenance of the city’s art collection and support of community projects through the Community Builder Partnership.

While there will be $1.8 million in new debt – thanks to the Henner’s Pond Stormwater Outlet project and the $750,000 land transfer for Lacombe Market Square – as well as $6.6 million in carryover debt, the budget does support development on the west, north and east sides of Lacombe.

The budget is also balanced.

“We’re really happy to be delivering a budget that is, for a second year, consistent with inflation,” said Chief Administrative Officer Matthew Goudy. “While recognizing the need for fiscal restraint, council is also investing in long-term economic growth, improving the quality of living and securing a stronger future for our city.”

Police budget reduction

One of the biggest changes made to the budget, however, was the scaling back of a $50,000 budget reduction to the Lacombe Police Service budget to $25,000.

The move followed a presentation from LPS Chief Lorne Blumhagen and the Lacombe Police Commission who wanted council to reconsider the cut which would bring their budget down from $3,323,537 to $3,273,537.

As a whole, the commission felt the decision to reduce the budget was somewhat arbitrary. Explaining the budget included only what they felt was necessary for the police, they said cuts could see a shift from LPS being a proactive service to a reactive service, and would ultimately affect crime rates and what are currently favourable standings in the Crime Severity Index in a negative way.

“Does our community want a proactive or reactive model? A reactive model might cost us a few less dollars…but if we’re not visible in our community we are going to always be reacting to crime,” said Blumhagen. “We can look at cutting back, but we’d be getting into that reactive model and that’s where we’re going to get into a position where we can’t spend the time dealing with our victims, responding to crimes, or giving some sort of information.

“Personally, that’s not the model I strive for and I don’t think the community wants that.”

He said the high level of community service has helped position them favourably in the Crime Severity Index, and aided in the city’s ability to attract new residents and businesses.

While council appreciated the service the Lacombe police give the community, not all were amenable to eliminating the reduction.

LPS, according to Creasey, has seen increases of about eight to nine per cent each year over the past few years, and while council might want to allocate more money to the LPS budget, he said the increases were unsustainable and needed to be “brought under control.”

“I don’t know what direction anybody thinks that kind of increase on an annual basis is acceptable. In any other city department it wouldn’t even be considered,” Creasey said, “$50,000 on $3.2 million is extremely little percentage-wise, but I think it sends a message because we do need to get it under control.

“While you suggest it’s arbitrary, it’s not enough, quite frankly.”

Blumhagen said if the $50,000 reduction remained, LPS and the commission would defer cuts to 2020 rather than make them this year and cover the $50,000 through transfers to capital. He said it would be an easy move for 2019, however, cautioned it would be more difficult to cover vehicle replacement and other capital cost in the future, especially with likely wage increases on the horizon.

While council discussed options of making cuts to IT and Heritage Resources to accommodate the police commission’s request, council chose to cut the reduction in half and reduce contributions to reserves by $25,000 instead.

Provisional Capital Budget

The provisional capital budget was also approved, but was dropped down from $6.5 million spread across 43 projects in the city to just shy of $6.4 million across 42 projects.

The project cut from the budget involved the design phase of a gravity feed storm main from Lake Anne to Cranna Lake en route to working towards the stabilization of water levels at Elizabeth Lake.

However, at a cost $120,000 for the design work alone, and an expected $880,000 in 2020 for construction, councillors questioned whether there was an urgent need for the project to go ahead at this time..

Chief among them was Coun. Thalia Hibbs, who suggested the project be moved into the 10 Year Capital Plan.

“In my opinion, this is not something needing to be done – it’s not a priority,” she said. “I really feel this project is not in our community’s interest to pursue at this time. It’s a significant dollar value for relatively little payback.”

The project would help facilitate development for Bower Ridge and Rosemont Estates, however, it also called for the lowering of Cranna Lake by 18 inches in order to get Elizabeth Lake to actually drain into Cranna.

However, it would only do so if the project got through Alberta Environment and Parks approval process. Given there was no guarantee the money would go towards design plans that would be approved, council voted 4-2 in favour of removing the project from the capital budget.

Coun. Gullekson and Coun. Hoekstra opposed.

The budgets will come back in spring 2019 for adjustments when school requisition is known.

More budget details can be found as part of the Lacombe Nov. 26 council meeting agenda at http://www.lacombe.ca/home/showdocument?id=11325.

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