Red Deer City council has continued to work through and debate the 2014 operating budget this past week. At press time on Tuesday, the budget totaled $305 million with the tax rate increase sitting at 3.93%.
Council was expected to wrap up budget talks either late Tuesday afternoon or some time on Wednesday.
A hot button issue for Red Deerians at this time is snow removal and council voted in favour of making significant changes to the Snow and Ice Control Policy as part of this year’s budget.
Council voted for higher standards of service when it comes to snow and ice control – a $1.7 million increase to the operating budget this year and in 2015.
More equipment for snow removal, for a cost of $2.1 million, will also be added in time for next winter to ensure crews can meet the new standards.
Changes include increased plowing on residential streets. City crews will complete a surface plow (leaving a 5 cm snow pack) four times each season if necessary. All residential streets will be completed within five days, and windrows will be left on either side of the streets. The trigger for a surface plow will be 10 cm of accumulated snow.
Council also approved the recommendation to plow back lanes up to three times per season if necessary as well.
For collector roadways, which includes bus routes, council increased the number of plows per season from one to four. The targeted completion for these roadways will be 20 days with the trigger being 10 cms of snow.
As for commercial and industrial areas, plowing will be increased there as well. Council voted in favour of plowing these areas up to three times a year with targeted completion within five days. Windrows will be left in these areas and the trigger for plowing is a snowpack of 15 cms.
“I think we responded to some of the areas in the community. I think we responded specifically to the concerns of the time that it takes to clear residential areas – that was an area that the previous council had identified as an issue and of course we have been hearing a lot about that as it’s played out in the extreme snow events,” said Mayor Tara Veer. “But also an important part was shrinking the gap on the Snow and Ice Control Policy with respect to sidewalk clearing. For years that has been a source of contention in the community.”
Council voted in favour of cleaning City sidewalks within 72 hours of a snowfall. Per season, this means City sidewalks should be cleared about 20 times. The cost to up the service in this area is $210,000 on the operating side and $125,000 on the capital side.
Currently, residents have 48 hours to clear their own sidewalks after a snowfall, but council will explore the idea of changing that to 72 hours to bring the two bylaws in line with one another.
In the past as part of the City’s bylaw, sidewalks would be cleared within 10 days of a snowfall.
Other highlights of the budget include the approval of the RCMP member fee agreement for a cost of $601,775 as well as hiring new RCMP officers and municipal employees for a total of $359,000 and adding to the corporate fleet for a total of $370,738.
“I think overall we have seen our council working well together and reflecting the interests of the community in debate. There has been strong democratic debate around different items and you can hear the priorities in the community coming to play at the council table,” said Veer.
Council was also able to find some cost savings which included reducing conference and seminar fees as well as travel reduction for a savings of $35,011; a reduction in consultant fees for a savings of $30,838 and a reduction in advertising for a savings of $13,552. The City will also cease the supply of firewood for residents for a cost savings of $40,000.
“I think this year we have seen more substantial cost savings then we have in any given year. We found those cost savings by the way of reducing consultant fees, reducing conference travel and by realizing savings through staff vacancies without reducing staff overall,” said Veer. “If we were to continue down this road to find operational efficiencies and innovations and cost savings where necessary, then my hope is by the time we face next year’s budget then we’ll be even better practiced at that, and that we would see an even lower tax impact.”