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Budget could be short as much as $500,000 for Grand Forks

Mona Mattei
By Mona Mattei
March 23rd, 2012

Tough decisions are due this week as Grand Forks city council considers how high they are prepared to go for this year’s budget.

The basic budget is calculated at a shortfall of $100,000 and, if council agrees to fund all the requests they have received, the additional cost to the annual budget is nearly $500,000 or about 16 percent more than the current revenue base.

What that might translate into for taxpayers is an increase ranging from the minimum needed of $100,000 or a four percent increase to the full additional 20 percent or $600,000. For an average house valued at $200,000 four percent will mean about $30 per year. For an increase of  20 percent that number becomes $120.

At this week’s council meeting, held Monday, Mar. 19, management staff for the city reviewed their programs and gave their rationale for their budget requests. Then chief financial officer (CFO) Cecile Arnott laid out the basic budget, and the current list of requests for funding from community organizations, grant-in-aid, other budget items like tourism advertising, committee work and additional departmental projects / equipment.

Grand Forks council will now need to review all the information and requests and set the priorities for the CFO to formalize the full budget.

“We’re not asking anyone to make decisions right now, this is our presentation to council,” said Arnott. “It’s an opportunity to get feedback and input. Nobody’s going to get their toes held to the fire – it’s still in a draft mode. This is a really tough one and (the managers) have been scraping to bring it in at what we are.”

Arnott said that the basic budget includes the priorities set by council in their strategic plan such as airport equipment upgrades, fee for service for the Grand Forks Art Gallery, support for council committees, water metering (using gas tax revenues), and moving the asset management plan (upgrades to roads, sewers and waterlines) as approved through the 2011 referendum vote.

“Our challenge is to align our plan with strategic goals,” explained Arnott. “Energy costs keep rising, grant availability is getting really, really tough. We need to optimize the resources that we have, and costs are going up.”

New requests on council are community support items like ongoing funding for the Phoenix Ski Hill, Boundary Museum, an increase to the Grand Forks Art Gallery contract, and other services (about $127,800); grant-in-aid requests which total about $18,000; $112,930 for other miscellaneous projects like tourism advertising, deer management, hanging baskets, and banners for street signs; and committee work targeting $20,000. Management staff have also suggested they could use an additional $152,000 to do capital projects and maintenance.

But it doesn’t stop there. Some additional capital projects are also in the discussion including live televising of the council meetings, $50,000; trail project to pave the TransCanada Trail $101,640; and entrance sign project $60,000.

On the revenue side, Arnott expects that the electrical utility will contribute $385,000 to the general revenue. This additional money is essentially the profits the city earns from their management of the utility.

“The news is not all bad. We have some serious developers making serious enquiries, and one project is already underway – the Silver Kettle village first phase should be completed this fall,” said chief administrative officer Lynn Burch who is retiring later this year. “We also have some new residential development being proposed and there may be other development coming.”

On Mar. 26 council will meet again, in a public meeting in chambers at 6 p.m., to review all aspects of the budget, look at the five year plan, decide on priorities and a funding strategy to meet those targets which could include a borrowing bylaw. The final budget will come to council for approval by bylaw on Apr. 2.