Council deliberates budget public input

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Feb. 7 Town of Athabasca council briefs, which look at unapproved spending and a refugee sponsorship resolution

As town council moves further into budget deliberations, they discussed how to incorporate public feedback at the Feb. 7 council meeting.

Following a motion to hold the second 2017 budget meeting on Feb. 22, Town of Athabasca Mayor Roger Morrill opened up discussion on involving the community in deliberations.

Coun. Shelly Gurba said she wasn’t sure an open house format is the most effective way to reach the public, as council has done in the past.

“I think we need to look at other venues to get as much input as possible,” she said.

Coun. Tanu Evans suggested falling in line with what some other towns have done, in accepting budget proposals online from residents, especially now with the town’s new website.

Morrill concluded the conversation by saying he would personally “like to see as much input as we can” and it’s something for council to begin thinking about.

Last year the town operated without a formally approved budget until finally being approved on Dec. 20, 2016 after interim CAO Doug Topinka brought it to council.

Unbudgeted, unapproved spending

Town administration brought a request to council to approve spending on this year’s annual community report, but instead of approval, council expressed concern about how last year’s report was handled.

Interim CAO Topinka said in the interim 2017 budget, there is no funding for this year’s community report, and so was looking for approval to do the report.

Upon questioning by Morrill, it came up that last year’s report went forward at a cost of $4,000, although it was not budgeted for and didn’t come to council.

“We’ve gone through cutting back in this area, to last year it looks like we spent money that wasn’t budgeted for, and now we’re dealing with this as a one-about versus going to budget?” Mayor Morrill said.

Other than confirming the expense went ahead without council’s approval and was not accounted for in he budget, Topinka had no explanation for council. He said he is making the request for this year’s report now, before budget deliberations, so the annual community report can get put out by early April.

Coun. Joanne Peckham made a motion to table the decision until the next meeting.

“I would like to know how this proceeded and how all this work and effort was done to create this for the community, when you’re saying nothing’s on the book, because that doesn’t make sense,” she said.

Peckham’s motion was defeated and instead a motion to request information on 2016 budget lines pertaining to the annual report for next meeting was passed with all councillors in favour except for Evans in opposition.

Refugee sponsorship resolution

Council passed a resolution in support of two local refugee sponsorship groups efforts, to lobby the federal government to ensure their privately-sponsored refugee families are welcomed to Athabasca within three months.

Kate Nunn, representing the Athabasca Interfaith Refugee Sponsorship Society (AIRSS), spoke to council and said federal delays in accepting refugees have private sponsorship groups concerned across the country.

“The moment the federal government met its election campaign (promise), it basically turned down the tap on the resources it had committed to for processing applications,” she said.

In addition to Nunn and her counterpart, Henrik Asfeldt – who was representing the St. Andrew’s Anglican-Zion Lutheran Church and Athabasca United Church sponsorship group – said there were six residents in the gallery present in support of the groups.

Coun. Steve Schafer thanked the group for presenting and for clarifying the difference between private and public sponsorship.

“I trust that we’ll be able to pass a resolution later in support of continued progress on this,” he said.

After the group had left, council unanimously passed the resolution, which requests the federal government take whatever steps necessary to ensure refugee families are welcomed in their new communities within three months, and that the mayor contact Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “to stress the need to act.”

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