A division within town council on the 2023 budget deliberation process is leading to an attempt to make changes in time for the start of 2024 deliberations this fall.

At its committee-of-the-whole meeting on Jan. 16, town council had an in-depth discussion on establishing a terms of reference for the task force, and at what point there should be public engagement.

Serving in the chair, Deputy Mayor Morgan Nagel was concerned there wasn't a definitive direction provided to the administration and near the end tugged at the reins.

"We have nearly the majority of council saying they're unhappy with the budget process to the point that they're voting against the budget, which is serious because without the majority we have no budget and we have no government. So, we need to figure out what we need to do, in order to make it so that council does not feel we have an erroneous or terrible budget process, including the public consultation.

"I really believe, that, you call it task force, you can call it the budget process meeting gang, like, I don't care, but we should set a number of meetings for the people who have concerns to get together at those meetings, list out their concerns, list out their best practice examples, and bring a presentation forth."

Town administration provided a term of reference draft as a starting point for discussions and will be preparing another one based on the input received. The initial draft called for the task force to be formed by members of council and administration, and it seems likely that won't change. 

In December, both councillors Tara McFadden and Marni Fedeyko voted against the budget. At Monday's meeting, Councillor Patrick Wilson expressed dissatisfaction with the process.

Award-winning budget processes of other Alberta municipalities, particularly Leduc, were regularly pointed to by Councillor Tara McFadden as possible sources of best practices.

She said she wants the town to be a crackerjack organization and have a process that would qualify for a Distinguished Budget Presentation Award. Leduc, St. Albert, Red Deer County, Edmonton, and Calgary receive them on a regular basis.

McFadden says her priority is public engagement which leaves residents feeling engaged and a budget that is transparent and easily understood. 

She prefers the process to come through a government lens.

"To me, this looks more like an administrative process, whereas I would much prefer that we pivot much quicker so that we can get good solid public engagement in the spring to feed into our process."

Agreeing with several of McFadden's points, Councillor Patrick Wilson liked what he saw in an initial one-hour review of the Leduc process. 

"When we're looking for numbers, I thought it had a more in-depth analysis of what's going on, so I appreciated that. I guess I agree with what we're trying to get to. I'm dissatisfied with our current situation. How do we get there is my question back to the group."

Councillor Marni Fedeyko pressed on the need for public input on the process and expressed keen interest in being part of the conversation.

"I have lots of things to say about the process. I think it would be really wrong for me to complain and then say I have no input for you, so that's why I want to be part of that process."

Mayor Jeff Genung favoured a task force that would hold meetings outside of council's regularly scheduled meetings.  He is concerned with timelines and wants the approach to be finalized as soon as possible, ideally at the Jan. 23 council meeting.

"The longer we try and make this a perfect task force, the more time we are eating up in our year to make a better budgeting process this year."