Cranbrook city council is currently mulling its top strategic priorities as city staff prepare to embark on another annual cycle of budget discussions and planning.
Chief Administrative Officer Mark Fercho set the table during Monday night’s council meeting, outlining how rising costs outside of city’s control, such as rising labour costs and contractor availability, fleet and property insurance and supply chain issues for equipment and parts, will have an impact on the city’s operating budget.
“With this information I’m asking for, administration is going to be much better positioned to have a good budget and business plan put together for good robust discussion with council,” Fercho said, “rather than having to do a whole bunch of adjustments at the end very quickly without a lot of good research and work behind it.”
Budgets are a reflection of choices, and city council will have some choices to make as discussions will kick off later in the fall season.
While council didn’t immediately articulate their top three priorities — that will come back in a future meeting — Fercho said that direction will help staff get the budget process started.
Additionally, Fercho is also asking for guidance on an acceptable tax levy increase threshold or limit that city council would support.
The 2023 tax levy increase was 5.87 per cent, while the next four years are projected at 5.70 per cent, 4.64 per cent, 4.18 per cent ad 2.87 per cent, according to a staff report.
“You know where our projected five-year increases are — I can tell you likely we’re going to be exceeding that unless we can get a lot of new market increases I am not aware of coming in…but what is that maximum ceiling? Once we know where we are capped out, if we can’t keep under that, what are some of those difficult decisions that need to be made?
“And if we know what your top three priorities are, we can recommend what services to reduce, what services to cut and help you meet what you want to do as your objectives.”
In terms of inflationary impacts on city operations, Fercho cited a few specific examples.
Full reconstruction of a city block, including underground infrastructure and repaving, cost $550,000 in 2019 dollars. Now, the same scope of work is estimated at just over a million dollars.
In the same vein, planning for capital projects has become challenging as cost estimates are becoming out of date almost as soon as the numbers are finalized. Additionally, contractor availability is impacting capital project timelines.
Cranbrook is also a target community for RCMP body-cams, as the city will have to foot the bill for that new technology as well as the accompanying records management.
The city is also bearing downloaded costs that are under the legislated responsibility of other levels of government.
For example, Fercho said a bylaw officer is spending an average of 30 hours a week responding to and managing issues arising out of homeless encampments.
Since the city passed a camping bylaw earlier this year, Fercho says cleaning up encampment areas has cost approximately $62,000 at just over $3,200 a week.
“That work does have an expense, and that expense — because it is not being borne by the province — is being dealt with by the local taxpayer and we’re going to have a talk this fall about that service,” Fercho said.
Citing a request for time to think about their priorities, council will revist the issue at the next regular meeting on Sept. 25.