Significant financial challenges and attempts to balance shortfalls with reserve transfers has led to nearly status-quo requests for much of North Battleford’s 2019 budget.
Monday, local lawmakers mulled the general governance, fire and protection services, underground pipe and asphalt replacement (UPAR), and water and sewer segments of the city’s budget.
Finance Director Steve Brown told councillors only “absolute needs” are being asked for funding next year and that administration will undertake endeavours to find cost-saving measures across the board.
In general governance and policing, a few building upgrades and pieces of software that will “eliminate a whole pile of manual steps” are looking for funding. This includes new human resources software, which should lead to efficiencies and replace an “archaic” filing system.
General government revenue is projected to be down by around $240,000, mainly due to a decrease in investment withdraws. This comes as the city has been advised to start taking less from the account to allow the investment portfolio to mature.
On the policing side of the balance sheet, revenues are expected to be down by over $518,000, as a few one-time grants will disappear. Wages and benefits are anticipated to jump by about $56,000 due to filling vacant positions and over time help to tackle crime in the city. However, contractual costs will decline by around $122,000 due to a reduction of one officer and a one-time equipment payment.
When it comes to fire and protection, a number of funding bumps are requested. North Battleford Fire Chief, Trevor Brice, had grim news on the state of some of the department's protective equipment when he addressed lawmakers and administration.
Brice said replacement of the departments breathing apparatuses, which are over 15 years old, has been pushed off for two years and the current “primary pieces of safety equipment won’t last another.”
Due to compatibility issues, he said each piece would have to be replaced, which carries a cost of $350,000.
“The integrity of the equipment is getting less and less,” he told city council.
These, coupled with a new command vehicle and commercial washing machine to better remove cancerous materials from clothing, tally $435,000 in new capital funding for the department in 2019.
Brice also pitched a 20 per cent increase in the fire prevention budget — wanting $10,000 over just $8,000 — noting it has not been increased in five years. A wage increase for paid-on-call firefighters is also being sought, as, according to Brice, this has not occurred for nine years. He wants to pay the firefighters $17 an hour, which he said is more “reflective to the rest of the province.” This would add around $66,000 to the books compared to 2018.
Around $26,000 remains set aside for the eventual contracting of a deputy fire chief to help “lessen the burden” of work on himself and others in the department.
Revenues for the department are anticipated to be down by $92,000 due to a change in agreement with the provincial government and a drop in fine and fee revenue to better reflect the actual number of tickets handed out.
UPAR, which was implemented in 2015, provides clear and predictable funding as the city continues to play catch up to its infrastructure deficit. No funding increase is sought for the program, mainly due to the number of financial challenges expected in 2019. This will maintain the program's funding at just over $3.324 million. Underground infrastructure work and above ground beautification is planned through this program to occur in 2019 on 101 St. between 11 Ave. and 12 Ave. and along 12 Ave.
On the water and sewer side on the books, alongside a 4.5 per cent base water and consumption rate increase, administration wants to begin a multi-year program to install automatic water metres to better monitor water consumption and services. This will ultimately cost well over $3.5 million, but only $500,000 is being asked for in 2019 to get the ball rolling.
Wireless metering, according to administration, would cut vast amounts of manual input time, while providing a multitude of benefits, like early leak detection, alerts for water theft and other problems, alongside more accurate readings.
With the construction of the new Saskatchewan Hospital North Battleford, the Ministry of Central Services has notified the city they will be turning off the power to the hospital and reservoir. But, since the reservoir is used to backwash some of the city’s lines when they become plugged with sand, administrators are wanting to take over the reservoir. A contractor has been hired and said while it is old, minor repairs could be done to bring it up to par.
City administration plans to demolish the old sewer treatment plant below the Don Ross Centre. While initial plans sought to use the facility to pre-test stormwater, the building has become a target for vandalism and youth are breaking into the facility.
A number of other repair and continuous maintenance items are also planned for 2019.
On Twitter: @JournoMarr
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