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Saturday , 23 January 2021

Bonnyville budget talks getting tense as 6% tax increase is proposed

It was a contentious budget discussion for the Town of Bonnyville council as the town feels they are in a challenging financial spot heading into 2021.

Bonnyville town council accepted the second draft of next year’s budget. which has a tentative six per cent tax increase and over $900,000 from reserves going towards balancing the books, all in anticipation of public feedback last Tuesday.

Roughly $4.5 million in cost overages on the regional waterline, and uncertainty about municipal and provincial funding, has worsened the outlook in just the last couple months for the Town.

The town has a virtual open house scheduled for this week.

However, there was disagreement during the meeting between members about how council would approach this budget to the public.

After discussions started with the six councillors supporting the tentative budget, Mayor Gene Sobolewski said the Town should approach the budget more optimistically, and account for money transfers they anticipate on getting, including frameworks with the neighbouring M.D. of Bonnyville, and ID 349.

“I disagree with pretty much everything that’s said. In April, we are going to see what our actually bad news is. If it comes as bad, bad news we have $900K [from reserves coming for the budget], what is council going to do, another 12 per cent increase?

“No, you’re not. What you’re going to do is look at services and what you’re going to cut. And perhaps maybe that’s the reality pill that we need to take today. Are we going to be providing the types of services that we need to provide or our residents are demanding?”

Councillor Chad Colbourne said he felt that Sobolewski was flipping on council.

“I’m a little confused and we all sat in the room in this room and worked on this budget together. And you were in agreeance then that this six per cent was something that we could live with and now you’re sitting here telling us that you’re completely opposed, and you’re flipping on council, not only on us but you’re flipping on what we discussed,” said Colbourne during the discussion at the meeting.

“Let’s go back, when we were in that room, I was basically sitting here in this chair and I talked about having to reduce and cut services. You guys talked about six per cent. I did not agree,” said Sobolewski. “I’m not agreeing now and I never have agreed to a six per cent increase.”

“Where was our heads up?” said Colbourne. “Because it’s easy to sit here in front of the public right now and say that you aren’t for it, when we all sat in this room and agreed with it, so I’m calling you out right now Mr. Sobolewski.

“Then you can call me out all you want. I have never agreed, ever, to a six per cent increase. You guys said it would sound good, I said we had to cut services. That is what I said. Each and every one of you sitting here better remember that because I have been absolutely consistent,” said Sobolewski.

As discussions cooled, the draft budget passed second reading. The Town must come up with an interim budget by the end of December, but can make adjustments until the spring as they get the valued assessments of properties and then set the mill rate.

On The Morning After last Wednesday, Sobolewski explained what his position was on the proposed tax increase.

“First of all, it was a workshop. And I mean, I’ve always been clear that unless all the variables are known, and in terms of 6 per cent increase, I mean, there may have been consensus in the room, but it’s not a meeting where you actually take a vote or anything like that,” he said.

“I’m not in favour of such a very large increase, without first understanding and knowing where the rest of the variables are coming from. So say, for example, with the ICF, I would like to see in the budget, some funds being put towards the ICF. So instead of a six per cent tax increase, include the value of an ICF, and put that in there as well and reduce that maybe it reduces down to one per cent, or two per cent. That was a number that was tossed around as well in that workshop,” said Sobolewski.

“The Town of Bonnyville hasn’t seen a tax increase beyond two per cent at least in my time on council. So six per cent that’s probably going to be something that’s not looked on as favorable. We’ll see what happens.”

Councillor Colbourne attacked Sobolewski after the meeting on Wednesday’s Connected! Morning Show with personal remarks, but that video has since been taken down, and Colbourne apologized later that week.

Lakeland Connect will follow up with details when the virtual budget open house is scheduled.

About Michael Menzies

Menzies is the editor-at-large for Connected Media Inc. Born and raised in Vermilion, he started in May 2018 during his NAIT Radio and Television practicum and reports on local politics, sports, and community issues. He became the Bonnyville Pontiacs play-by-play voice during the 2019-20 season. He also comments on provincial and national issues. Menzies hosts Connected! Evening Monday-Thursday at 5 o’clock. He also likes to buy books and read some of them.