Staff at last Monday’s Council meeting released the draft budget to the public for review. Residents can expect to see summaries of the draft mailed out, e-versions also available online. Town Council and staff are asking for feedback from the public regarding the budget via online contact and concerns form as well as by email and written letters. This all leads up to the Town’s budget open house which will be held December 3rd.
Staff of the Sylvan Lake News asked Mayor Sean McIntyre 10 questions about the budget which he was thrilled to answer.
The Town listed a number of items out of the budget they felt they were particularly proud of – one of which was infrastructure funding. Why do you feel updated infrastructure is important to the Town?
McIntyre: For a lot of people, underground infrastructure is not top of mind, but it is something we need to be continually improving in order to ensure the safe delivery of water and the safe exit of waste and storm water from people’s homes and neighbourhoods. It’s something that was not regularly completed over the last few decades. Through our 2014 infrastructure study we learned that there is a significant amount of underground infrastructure that needs to be replaced in the older neighbourhoods in our community. So through our 10 year plan, we’ve got a number of rather significant infrastructure projects that are centered around replacement of aging infrastructure.
With the amount that Sylvan Lake’s population has grown over recent years, I can imagine that infrastructure is more important than ever?
McIntyre: It absolutely is. Because we are such a fast growing community, we can sometimes forget we are also a 102 year community. You can imagine, with a history like that there is quite a bit of old infrastructure under our streets that needs to be replaced.
In terms of above ground infrastructure, the Town has highlighted items such as the aquatic centre as important aspects of the 2016 budget – what can you tell me about that?
McIntyre: The 2016 budget has a number of these projects including the required repairs to the pool, the construction of the NexSource Centre, as well as the completion of the new fire hall. When we are looking at our multi-year budget – all of the big plans we have been talking about are included in our three year budget. It’s important to understand that when we are looking at changes in our budget, these important projects are included.
In regards to the residential tax rate increases, which are down from last year, Council seemed to have very specific reasons for implementing them. What can you tell me about the 2.47% tax rate increase?
McIntyre: During the 2015 budget exercise, we forecast a residential tax rate increase of 3.7% for 2016. Then over the year we were thankful enough to have some very robust development occur in the Town of Sylvan Lake and that in conjunction with the current economic situation Alberta finds itself in inspired Council to do everything they could to make strategic cuts to that budget in order to end up at 2.47% for 2016.
Can this also be tied back to the freezing of the non-residential rate as well?
McIntyre: The non-residential or commercial/industrial rate will remain at the same rate it has since 2013, which is something we have done strategically in order to remain a business friendly community which we have been recognized for by Alberta Venture magazine which has been very encouraging for us. We are among the top 12 communities in Alberta to do business in and I think that’s due in large part to the economic development efforts we’ve undertaken in the last few years.
What can you tell me about the street improvement work that is happening around town and how does it impact the budget?
McIntyre: It goes back to our aging infrastructure in the community. In addition to replacing underground infrastructure, we are also replacing aging streets and sidewalks. When that happens we do more than replace asphalt and concrete – we take a look at the design of the street as well and ensure proper vehicle and pedestrians capacities for our growing population are considered. The latest example of that is the work that has been done this year on 43 street. this year. That street has new underground infrastructure, new asphalt and sidewalks. Part of building a complete community is ensuring complete streets are present. This means ensuring there is adequate room for pedestrians as well as lighting for safety and as we are able to we are addressing all streets in Sylvan Lake to make sure that aligns with those values.
Within the highlights of the budget, the Town listed the Cultural Master Plan. In regards to the growing population, did this play a role in the decision to create the plan?
McIntyre: It wasn’t necessarily the growing population. Our history as a town centres around many things – one area being sport. One area we know we could improve on is our cultural element in the community. This year we will be working on both the cultural master plan and a social master plan. We are looking forward to being able to identify our strengths and weaknesses in those areas and plan project in order to improve the community. We’ve been undertaking a lot of master plans lately because we’ve had many great ideas in the community over the last number of years but we hadn’t been creating executable plans we could refer to over time to make sure we are continually making improvements. So the cultural master plan will look at the facilities and programs we have in place now and ensure that we have a road map to improve what’s available to the community.
What would you say is the importance of the money budgeted for the upcoming environmental study and in potentially creating an environmental master plan?
McIntyre: This reflects the value of this Council and our attitude looks towards the future. In a rapidly growing community like Sylvan Lake, we can’t ignore the environmental impacts of our community so we are undertaking an environmental study to identify environmentally sensitive areas of the community such as wetlands and ravines to help us have a concrete plan to preserve those areas. It is one thing to hold these areas of value, but it is another entirely to have a plan in place to ensure they are preserved. We are very mindful of the lake and we are currently working on projects such as bio filters which will work to protect the Lake’s natural filtering abilities. We are also looking at tree stands and other streams that bring water both in and out of the lake are in good health to ensure the development around it isn’t negatively impacting those water bodies.
As the mayor of Sylvan lake, is there anything else in the budget that you are personally particularly proud of?
McIntyre: Budget deliberations are always a tough time. Council came into this with an attitude of delivering the best quality services for the greatest value and that meant making some tough decisions when it came to projects that ought to happen, projects that ought to be cancelled and other projects that make sense later on in the 10 year capital plan. I think at the end of the day, after those tough decisions were made I think we came out with a budget proposal that recognizes our communities needs and takes steps to meet them. We are in a place as a community where we can’t necessarily build all of the things we need in a short time frame and that’s where tools like the 10 year capital plan comes in, so we can address those needs over a longer period of time.
You were quoted in the Sylvan Lake News earlier this month stating it was a ‘good news budget in a bad news year’ what exactly did you mean by that?
McIntyre: As a community we have dealt with a number of challenges over the last few years including the arena and the very unfortunate situation we inherited with the aquatic centre. Typically those are issues that are very challenging for a community to address, but this budget – including the lower tax increase we are proposing – allows us to be able to include those projects and that’s where I say that we as a community have faced a tough and challenging time dealing with issues we’ve had to inherit and we are addressing those issues without large tax increases like many municipalities have had to do.