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Athabasca Town council approves ARMS 2024 operating budget

Councillors discuss rising costs, green initiatives to curb spending
Coun. Edie Yuill voted against a motion to approve an in principle five per cent increase to the ARMS operating budget per year for the next three years during the Nov. 21 town council meeting. ARMS operating requisition from each member municipality for 2024 was $940,000.

ATHABASCA — Town of Athabasca councillors gave the Athabasca Regional Multiplex Society’s (ARMS) 2024 operating budget the green light, a decision which comes with a price tag of almost a million dollars. 

During the Nov. 21 regular meeting, councillors voted 6-0 — Coun. Jon LeMessurier was absent — to approve the ARMS requisition of $940,000 for the 2024 operating budget. A second motion to approve an in principle five per cent increase per year for the next three draft operating budgets was passed 5-1, with Coun. Edie Yuill opposed. 

“It’s what we discussed, it’s not a surprise,” said mayor Rob Balay. “It’s not higher than what we’d anticipated.” 

Yuill expressed concern around the five per cent in-principle increase over the next 3 years: 
“I know we project (budget increases), but we don’t ask someone else to pay for it,” she said. 

“We actually do, we ask the taxpayers,” noted Coun. Dave Pacholok. 

During discussion, Coun. Sara Graling noted by approving the in-principle increases for the next three years, councillors would be making a decision that stretches beyond their current term, which will end in Oct. 2025. 

“I do think about the next council, are we having that discussion of something that’s going to impact the next council?” asked Graling. 

The 2024 operating budget was approved by ARMS during the Oct. 16 board meeting and was first in front of town during the Nov. 7 council meeting. Councillors voted 6-0 — Balay was absent — to defer the operating budget to a future meeting. 

ARMS capital budget, approved by the board Nov. 20, will be in front of town council during the upcoming meetings in December. 

Cutting costs with energy efficiency 

Graling asked what green initiatives are being pursued to help offset the major costs incurred by the multiplex. “If I look at electricity, gas, those kinds of numbers that are drivers, what are our strategies to tackle that is what I think about.” 

Electricity is projected to cost the multiplex $455,000 in 2024, up $15,000 from 2023’s budgeted electricity costs. Natural gas is expected to cost $213,000 next year, an increase of $7,000 from 2023. An additional $9,000 in water expenses has been budgeted, with $79,000 slated for 2024. In all, utilities are expected to cost over three quarters of a million dollars in 2024. 

Balay, who sat on the ARMS board until the town’s organizational meeting held Oct. 17, said multiplex staff had pursued energy efficient changes such as switching all facility light bulbs to LED. But, he noted, the most impactful initiative for energy efficiency is the solar photovoltaic project, which was approved as a capital project in 2023, but has yet to commence. 

“Basically the biggest savings that would be realized in the future would be with that project,” said Balay. The project, which includes 2,172 modules, 6 roof-mounted inverters, and would produce 996,400 kW per year for 25 years is waiting for funding via the federal Green and Inclusive Community Buildings (GICB) grant.

Up to 80 per cent of project costs are eligible under GICB. The total cost of the project, including 4 new energy efficient boilers is slated at $2,515,582, with up to $2,012,465.60 covered by grant funding.

“It’s definitely more than viable with the grant,” said Balay.

“It’s a very small window of payback,” added Pacholok, “which would be incredibly good for us going forward.” 

In a presentation to Athabasca County council March 31, 2022, municipal energy manager Kevin Jacobs projected the payback period for the project costs not covered by the GICB grant at 4.2 years. Without federal funding, the payback period was slated at 21 years. These projections do not include the additional costs for the boilers. 

Lexi Freehill,

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