City council approves 2015 budget

by Phil Ambroziak

The City of Meadow Lake wants to ensure it’s being financially responsible to the people who call the community home.

That’s why a major focus of the recently approved 2015 municipal budget involves setting more than a half-million dollars aside to address future infrastructure needs. According to mayor Gary Vidal, the capital and operating budgets – which were approved at council’s regular meeting Dec. 8 and which call for a three per cent tax increase – will also see $600,000 transferred to reserves to help the city build an adequate fund for infrastructure replacement.

“We’re taking steps to ultimately create a very effective infrastructure management plan to ensure we make the right decisions over the long term,” Vidal said. “In the meantime, money is being set aside to allow us to fund this process once we know exactly what the plan will include.”

The mayor went on to compare the city’s future infrastructure plan to the individual efforts of those who save their money opposed to simply living paycheque to paycheque. At the same time, city manager Diana Burton noted how important it is for the city to be aware of what infrastructure needs to be replaced and when.
“A lot of things put in place 50 or 60 years ago are reaching the end of their life expectancy,” she said. “This allows us to be proactive and not always wondering how we’re going to pay for something if and when it breaks.”

One example Burton provided was the maze of pipes that runs beneath the streets. Many of them, she said, are nearly a half-century old and will soon require replacement. Having a plan in place, she added, as well as extra money in the coffers, will allow the city to prioritize these projects for several years to come.

Meanwhile, the 2015 operating budget includes a 1.74 per cent increase over 2014, an increase that includes a chunk of money for Meadow Lake Fire and Rescue. The department will receive $20,000 in wages to complete work on hydrants, perform fire inspections and complete public education programs. An additional $12,000 will go toward new radios and $13,000 is earmarked for hydrant parts. And – from the 2015 capital budget – the department will receive $260,000 to purchase a new fire tanker equipped with a fire pump and large tanks, as well as $65,000 for a rapid response unit.

“A significant investment is being made in the fire department from both the operating and capital budgets,” Vidal said. “Based on information provided to us from the fire chief, this should improve the department’s ability to maintain proper standards and to provide the utmost in public safety.”

Also from the operating budget will come $80,000 for the aforementioned infrastructure assessment, an additional $25,000 for gravel and for a back alley maintenance program, $30,000 for preventative paved road maintenance and $125,000 for dust proofing. But, the biggest project of the year will be the installation of backup generators at reservoir #1 and the decommissioning of the municipal water tower. This is expected to cost $2.5 million and will come from the capital budget via borrowed funds. The city does plan to apply for grant money, however, that could help offset the amount council would be required to borrow.

“This is one of those things we’ve put off for a couple years, but have to do now because that water tower is nearing the end of its life,” Vidal noted.

Other capital budget highlights include $165,000 for the public works department to purchase a new loader and $50,000 for a new skid steer.

Total capital expenditures for 2015 have been tallied at $3,074,500. As for operating revenues, the city anticipates $10,589,119 with expenditures budgeted at $9,311,907.

“We’ve been very cognizant not to have any increases be unbearable,” Vidal said.

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