The Town of Sylvan Lake is in the early phases of planning the 2021 Budget, and are already seeing pressure points due to COVID-19.
Ahead of budget discussions, which will take place later this year, Town staff are looking at how they can help reduce pressure on the budget, while still maintaining the same level of service to the community.
Darren Moore, director of finance with the Town, says the goal is to “reduce the pressure on tax rates and bring in a budget which maintains core service levels and respects the current economic conditions.”
“We know that a five per cent tax rate is unacceptable so we are looking at strategies to help reduce that,” Moore said during a council meeting.
Currently, Moore is expecting an one per cent shortfall from the 2020. To make up the shortfall would mean adding it to the 2021 tax rate. That is something Moore does not want to do.
Instead, he and staff at the Town have developed four strategies to help offset the shortfall for the upcoming budget.
Those strategies include:
• Reduce the amount of operating projects. These projects are funded from the tax base and in 2020 amounted to over $1.8M dollars. If these are reduced, staff will focus on the carry-over projects and the existing capital program.
• Reduce the transfers to reserves in 2021. This will have policy impacts.
• Utility funding allocated to cover some administrative staff time.
• Reduce travel, training and conference expenses.
“Focusing on the [sic] initiatives will reduce the pressure on municipal tax rates, and if approved, will allow Administration to maintain core services and current service levels,” Moore said.
Sylvan Lake Mayor Sean McIntyre says the report presented to council at the Sept. 28 meeting “does not preclude any budget deliberation.” Instead, the report highlights the difficult situation the municipality is in the budget season.
“I think this just reiterates the theme of Budget 2021 will be reduction,” said McIntyre. “This report does not mean we are approving any tax hikes, or it just setting us in the mind frame for our budget discussions.”
Sylvan Lake Town Councillors say they are expecting a lot of difficult choices to come down the pipeline with the 2021 Budget, and expect they will have to get creative when it comes to new programs and initiatives.