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Council agrees to 'tough' budget

Mayor Shari Decter Hirst listens to city manager Scott Hildebrand in this file photo.

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Mayor Shari Decter Hirst listens to city manager Scott Hildebrand in this file photo. (COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN)

Councillors Shawn Berry, left, and Jim McCrae talk prior to Saturday afternoon’s budget session at city hall.

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Councillors Shawn Berry, left, and Jim McCrae talk prior to Saturday afternoon’s budget session at city hall. (BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN)

City treasurer Dean Hammond speaks with city manager Scott Hildebrand during the noon-hour break of the budget deliberations at city hall on Saturday.

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City treasurer Dean Hammond speaks with city manager Scott Hildebrand during the noon-hour break of the budget deliberations at city hall on Saturday. (BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN)

After more than 13 hours of deliberations, city council gave tentative approval to its 2013 budget Saturday night.

The $71.9 million operating budget represents a mill rate increase of less than one per cent.

"It was a tough, tough, tough budget," Mayor Shari Decter Hirst said. "The fact that we spent 13 and a half hours (Saturday) alone on it, tells you how committed we were to getting that number down as small as we could. The fact that we had unanimous support for this budget, also tells me that council was feeling pretty good about where things wound up."

The overall municipal mill rate is 19.256, up from last year’s 19.07.

For the average homeowner with a property assessed at $200,000, that means a total of $1,733 in property taxes, up about $17 from last year.

Over the course of the day, council managed to make a net reduction of $383,000 from the original proposed budget, reducing the mill rate increase from 1.99 per cent to 0.98 per cent.

In an effort to tackle what seems to be skyrocketing salary costs, council approved a $600,000 reduction in labour costs across the organization.

During the debate city treasurer Dean Hammond said they are working on ways to address the rising wages.

"It took us 13 years to get here, we’re not going to get out of here overnight," Hammond said, adding he thought the reduction of $600,000 may be a "knee-jerk reaction" to a problem that they are already working on.

Coun. Len Isleifson (Riverview) said sick pay and over time is "out of control."

"I really think it’s time that we put our feet down and said, ‘enough is enough’," Isleifson said.

There was clear direction from council to focus on protective services, as that department makes up roughly 36 per cent of the budget and has seen significant increases in salaries since 2001.

Police Chief Keith Atkinson addressed council, explaining how protective services contracts across the country are similar.

"We’re not unique in Brandon," he said, adding the majority of the police service budget goes to salaries."It would mean layoffs, it would mean reduced services."

Councillors around the table were optimistic that the reduction could still be accomplished without job loss.

Another major item was a $500,000 increase in funding for infrastructure projects like sidewalks, street resurfacing and drainage.

Council also approved a reduction of $400,000 in operating reserves.

"I’m always reluctant to have any cuts to reserves," Hammond said. "Of course, that’s our bank account for the future, so with cuts to the reserve comes risk."

Under transportation services, council approved $50,000 for a four-month trial of Sunday bus service.

"I think that it’ll be up to the residents of Brandon to use it, to prove that this isn’t just the need of a few, but in fact will be a valuable addition to transportation services in our community," Decter Hirst said.

Council also voted to reduce funding to Urban Renewal by $50,000. That means Renaissance Brandon will receive $200,000 instead of the proposed $250,000.

As the city’s economic development director Sandy Trudel explained to council, that is actually a $100,000 reduction because the province matches the dollars that the city provides.

Meanwhile, $25,000 in additional funding was approved for the planning department, with a focus on building code equivalencies for downtown development.

"It does add value to properties downtown," Coun. Jeff Harwood (University) said. "I think we’re late in the game on this. This will get the process started and it has a benefit for the entire city."

Harwood put forward a motion to increase funding for the Brandon General Museum and Archives by $90,000, which was approved.

The affordable housing reserve increased by $75,000, while an additional $25,000 in funding was approved for economic development strategy implementation.

"This is something that the council has talked about in generalities, we’ve now got money behind it," Decter Hirst said. "I expect to be working very closely with the chamber of commerce and other stakeholders on economic development initiatives for 2013."

Council also voted to increase the potential debenture for developing a Youth Centre in the former Convergys building to $3 million.

"I think that not only is it going to improve the quality of life in our city, but we’re a younger city and we’re getting younger every day and this is a tangible investment in the future of our city," Decter Hirst said.

A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for March 4. The financial plan will be brought to city council for adoption on April 2.

» jaustin@brandonsun.com

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition January 14, 2013

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After more than 13 hours of deliberations, city council gave tentative approval to its 2013 budget Saturday night.

The $71.9 million operating budget represents a mill rate increase of less than one per cent.

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After more than 13 hours of deliberations, city council gave tentative approval to its 2013 budget Saturday night.

The $71.9 million operating budget represents a mill rate increase of less than one per cent.

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