There was only one glitch in the town administration's game plan prior to setting the stage for town council to receive its first look at what it proposes for the town's 2024 budget.
The planned two-day administration-led information session was a wash due to the water crisis faced by the community and wasn't rescheduled.
Last night (Nov. 6), the draft budget was presented to council following an overview by newly-appointed chief financial officer Alvin Allim. It contained the exact same numbers as outlined several weeks ago.
It calls for a 3.45 per cent increase in residential property taxes in 2024, amounting to an annual increase of $89 for a home assessed at $561,200. Administration says inflation accounts for three per cent of the proposed increase.
When utility rate changes are taken into account, it's a total annual increase of $213.48 for the average home assessment. It calls for a 12.4 per cent increase in the average annual water bill, and 13.3 per cent increase in the average sewer bill.
Councillors Tara McFadden expressed concern over the removal of the two-day in-person information sessions but was unable to gain enough traction to have them reinstituted.
Town CAO Mike Derricott said these sessions would not have any impact on the draft being presented to town council. Rather, it was a chance to illustrate how residents' input was incorporated into the budget draft.
Derrricott spoke with confidence on the extent of public engagement, and how it influenced the formulation of the budget.
"When we stretch this out and include the spring engagement that was done, we have interacted with, by far, the most public feedback in any budget that I'm aware of in Cochrane's existence. It's been a very very robust public engagement process."
Residents with concerns or questions, however, can contact town councillors and administration. The Let's Talk Cochrane portal will also remain open throughout budget deliberations to allow for further comments to inform, perhaps even influence, town councillors through the course of budget deliberations.
Councillor Marni Fedeyko has indicated says she will be conducting her own public consultation on the budget, and others may follow suit.
Four days have been set aside for council to examine and fine-tune the budget starting on Nov. 14. Derricott says more days can be added if necessary. He doesn't rule out adopting an interim budget should deliberations extend beyond set timelines.
"Obviously, administration feels quite confident that we've prepared a budget that is ready for council's review and consideration," says Derricott. "Now it's council's turn to interact with that and we'll take as much time as council needs until they're prepared to make an appropriate decision."
The budget is being presented in a working document-style format as opposed to a slick finished product that left the impression it was a done deal.
"That was something that was discussed through the budget task force as a way, I think, hopefully, to provide council with the best decision-making framework possible."
The full budget will be released to the public this morning.