After months of work behind the scenes, Thompson city council finally approved the city’s 2019 financial plan at their May 13 meeting.
The $34.8 million budget passed by a 7−2 margin, with councillors Jeff Fountain and Duncan Wong being the only two outliers.
Fountain opposed allocating roughly $14,000 for an administrative staff wage increase. While he said he is grateful for all the hard work that non-union employees like city manager Anthony McInnis and chief financial officer Jenny Krentz put in, he said he couldn’t support this line item given all the challenges that Thompson is currently going through.
“Our population is falling, tax revenue is dropping, stores are clearing out and we’ve closed the pool, given up on the sign at the TRCC and other infrastructure is failing,” he said. “Giving our admin staff a raise at this time seems to be poor optics and I can’t vote in favour of the financial plan based on that alone.”
Wong’s primary objection stemmed from the discrepancy between their 2019 and 2018 budget, the latter of which evened out to $31.5 million.
“It blows my mind,” he said. “Why are we budgeting $34 million this year? In my opinion, we are budgeting for profit and we are taking money out of the taxpayer savings account and putting it in the city savings account in case we need it. So I cannot support this financial plan.”
However, Coun. Earl Colbourne pointed out that the city actually spent less than $29 million last year and is spending more up front for the ongoing wastewater treatment plant construction project to reduce the amount it needs to borrow and pay back in future years.
“So there’s our increase in budget. We’ve got to pay for it somehow,” he said. “I support this budget because I think it’s a fair and honest budget, and we reduced our costs and we will continue to reduce our costs in the future.”
Coun. Les Ellsworth praised fellow councillors for all the hard work they put into finalizing this budget, which involved a lot of long nights and tough decision-making.
“There was meeting after meeting after meeting, three-and-a-half, four hours every night, away from our families,” he said. “We went through every line and every line was heartbreaking at times. So it’s not easy and I don’t like when the public is misled into thinking that we just sat back on our laurels.”
Council capped off Monday’s meeting by passing the second and third reading of a levy bylaw that finalizes the 2019 mill rate.
Outside of the 1.97 per cent increase in the residential mill rate (40.431 to 41.228), the commercial mill rate is also going to jump by 1.58 per cent (50.201 to 50.998).
Both readings passed by a definitive 8−1 margin, with Wong remaining the only opponent as he was during its first reading April 29.
The next Thompson council meeting is May 27 at 7 p.m.