News Local

Morden taxes to rise

Alexis Stockford

MORDEN - 

Morden residents got their first look at next year’s budget last week as city council presented their 2016 financial plan during the last regular council meeting of 2015.
Just over $11.7 million was accounted for in the preliminary budget presentation, including capital projects, continued funding for public services and infrastructure upgrades.
“Presenting the budget in December, we started that in 2015 and we’ve continued that this year [2016],” Mayor Ken Wiebe said. “We find that it is a little  bit of work in the fall, but it’s no work that we wouldn’t have to do anyway. It just eases some of the stress and pressure on our financial department for January-February, when they don’t have to deal with preparing the budget as well as wrapping up finances for the previous year. “
Residents will see about a 1.5 per cent increase in municipal taxes, based on an average land value increase of 9.9 per cent, although final mill rate calculations will not be done until the province releases its final assessment values in January. Likewise, education tax credits and support levies will be announced in early 2016, as the Western School division mill rate will also be reliant on provincial numbers.
The modest tax increase covers cost of living, Wiebe said, adding that council tries to maintain two per cent increases yearly in line with the consumer price index.
“We try very hard on our council to keep the increases at the cost of living, because if we don’t do that, if we don’t do cost of living as a minimum year-to-year, suddenly you end up needing a huge pile of money for one thing or another and it’s just not there and you end up doing a five or six per cent increase in taxation, and that could be a real tough one to swallow,” he said.
The city has estimated the 2016 municipal mill rate at 18.53 (the lowest in at least six years), down from this year’s figure of 20.07. Assuming those numbers,  the tax hike will cost home owners an estimated $26.50 more, up from $1,950.30 in 2015 to $1,976.8 for a home valued at $200,000. Businesses assessed at the same level will see a $38.28 increase from $2,609.10 to $2,647.38. Looking to capital projects, Wiebe said he felt the city anticipated residents’ priorities “very well,” particularly in terms of cost.
The city plans to upgrade sidewalks, pathways and roads, repairs to the airport’s runway and upgrades to instrument navigation, see work done on the Pembina Connection retention pond and Thornhill Street pressure station, and start work on the first phase of the incoming Access Event Centre car park. In total, the city plans to spend $1,439,250 in projects.
Equipment purchases for 2016 are set to come in at about  $1,410,200 and will include additional fire service turn out gear, road sweepers, vehicles and skid steers, and continuing work to replace water valves and hydrants, which Wiebe pointed out have been in place since the 1950s.
Recreation and cultural services made up the biggest line items of the 2016 budget, accounting for 23.23 per cent of expenditures.
Protective services came in second, as 21 per cent of expenditures, followed by transportation services at 10.6 per cent.
The city also plans to invest in new asset management and financial software for administrative and city planning staff.
“The bigger we grow, the more of a need there is to manage our assets properly, and that includes things like our water lines, sewer lines and streets and hydrants and buildings and all that to keep a close watch on when they were built, their projected lifespan, projected costs for maintenance and replacement, those sort of things,” Wiebe said.
Organizations such as the South Central Regional Library, Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre, Pembina Threshermen’s Museum and Corn and Apple Festival will also receive support. Both the SCRL and CFDC topped out the city’s list of funded organizations, with both taking about $118,000.
Challenges ahead
Outside of regular capital projects, Wiebe says he hopes to progress the continuing regional discussion around wastewater and the upcoming 2017 deadline for the city to be in compliance with the Accessibility Act, which came into effect earlier this year.
Wiebe says the city (as well as Winkler and the R.M. of Stanley) is waiting to hear back on provincial and federal funding before progress can be made on a proposed waste water treatment plant expected to cost about $60 million dollars.
The three local governments hope to split the cost evenly with other levels of government, an arrangement that would leave the cities and R.M. collectively responsible for $20 million.
“We have done some preliminary planning and we have some good plans in place and we have a lot of the engineering done and we have a lot of the cost estimates done. It’s just now a matter of waiting to see what kind of funding we’re going to get from the federal government,” Wiebe said.
Morden will also be laying down plans to eliminate barriers for disabled residents as part of the recent Accessibility Act, which requires all local governments to have accessibility plans in place by 2017.
As well as physical accommodations such as wheelchair ramps, the plan must consider employability barriers, access to information, and transportation and must be updated every two years.