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Tough budget choices ahead

Town of Barrhead councillors debate whether or not to expedite a list of 2022 capital expenditures prior to approving the final budget
Dave McKenzie, Nov 23 copy
Barrhead mayor Dave McKenzie said the park and recreation Youtube videos are a tool to help draw positive attention to the region from residents and outsiders alike and believes $8,000 in camera equipment to help staff create the videos is a reasonable ask.

BARRHEAD - Aaron the Blue Heron will have to wait a little longer before receiving a makeover.

On Nov. 22, Town of Barrhead councillors partially approved a list of recommendation for capital expenditures they would like to see expedited for 2022.

In three separate motions, councillors approved the purchase of a new columbarium estimated at $50,000 and authorized the tendering of a new grader estimated at $455,000. Funding for the columbarium will come from the proposed 2022 operating budget.

Council also tabled a decision on whether they should order 45 recycle bins, estimated at $80,000, to a future meeting until they could receive more information from the public works director. The funding will come from existing departmental reserves.

Councillors will also consider the purchase of a new $15,000 Aaron the Blue Heron suit and $8,000 in camera equipment during their upcoming budget deliberations.

Chief administrative officer Edward LeBlanc said it is common practice for staff to request capital items that are in the upcoming year's budget before passing the interim and final budgets, especially if a long preparation time is needed or there is a need for them early in the new year.

For example, he said the new grader, which is included in the town's multi-year capital plan for replacement in 2022, would take several months to arrive once ordered.

The interim 2022 budget should be presented to council in early December, while the final budget is expected to be complete in the spring.

LeBlanc added the columbarium (a structure to hold urns containing cremated remains) in the town-operated cemetery is running out of capacity. Currently, it has four of its 64 niches left. Each niche can accommodate up to two urns.

He noted the new structure would be identical to the current columbarium.

"The funeral home paid for the last columbarium, but they have told us that they wouldn't be purchasing another one," LeBlanc said.

Coun. Rod Klumph asked if the $50,000 was included in the proposed 2022 operating budget or if it was essentially an unbudgeted expense that council would have to take from somewhere else.

"It would be new money," LeBlanc responded. "There might be some items that will be off the table because of the expenditure. At this point, it is still too early to tell."

Coun. Don Smith and Coun. Dausen Kluin expressed their displeasure that the town was not given the heads up by cemetery services that the columbarium was nearing capacity.

LeBlanc agreed but noted the municipality would eventually make its money back, as they sell the niches for $1,700, not including a maintenance fee.

"It does put us in a difficult position," he said, adding the issue wasn't necessarily urgent as they may be able to make arrangements for the temporary storage of any urns.

Smith said that might be the case but believed they needed to buy the item sooner than later. However, he did question the necessity and timing of the $8,000 in camera gear.

The equipment is intended to help the parks and recreation department create videos for the town's Youtube Channel and would augment the municipality's current camera/video equipment that includes a portable studio lighting system with an upper-end Canon hybrid camera.

LeBlanc said the purchase "could be absorbed in the (2022) capital budget through a reduction in another item."

Smith said he wanted to see this item included as part of their overall budget deliberations.

"I would like to know how much we've already invested last year and now we are putting some more money into it," he said. “Perhaps see some stats, what they are planning for 2022. I want to make sure that we are getting value for the dollars that we are spending."

In the past, Smith questioned whether the rec department making videos was the best use of their time.

Mayor Dave McKenzie said the rec department began creating the videos two summers ago to continue youth summer programming due to the pandemic.

Since then, he said the video creation skills of the rec department has improved and they now need the equipment to match.

"I think that through the tracking of the viewer rates of these videos and how it ties in with our Better In Barrhead brand, it is a fair want," he said.

Better in Barrhead is one of the municipality's attempts to increase economic activity in the region through tourism, mostly through the Better In Barrhead website.

"It is a tool to promote the community, not only to our residents but outside of it," McKenzie said.

He added that the town's video on ice fishing, at the time, was one of the most viewed Youtube videos in Alberta.

"It gave people the information (on ice fishing) that they were looking for while highlighting Barrhead. It was our wildlife officer and our lake. You can't buy that kind of economic development or tourism advertising like that."

According to Youtube, the 10-month-old video is the town's second most viewed video with more than 1,100 views. However, the majority of the other 100 or so videos have been viewed between 50 and 300 times.

Barry Kerton,

Barry Kerton

About the Author: Barry Kerton

Barry Kerton is the managing editor of the Barrhead Leader, joining the paper in 2014. He covers news, municipal politics and sports.
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