Budget adjustments and the use of some funds from last year's surplus are expected to reduce the property tax increase to approximately 3.7 per cent net of growth from the 7.55 proposed in the draft budget.
To adjust the budget, projected safety code and planning and development revenues were increased to a combined total of $190,000, a $25,000 correction was made to the council's budget, and an additional $20,000 to support the gift guide was removed.
Council eliminated a total of $284,000 in slippage from the delayed hiring of staff and an RCMP slippage adjustment.
The changes totaled $1.27 million to basically cut the tax increase in half.
Other cuts were considered that the administration weighed as posing a medium or high impact on the town's operation. None were cut.
While calculations need to be completed, it will see a property tax increase of less than $100.00 annually for an average house with an assessed value of $495,700. The draft budget called for an annual increase of $180.
CAO Mike Derricott recommended a further $750,000 of last year's surplus be used over the next two budget years to blend out the inflationary pressure being felt by residents. The Town of Cochrane is anticipated to have a $2,765,000 surplus in 2022.
The negative impact is a reduction in the ability to infrastructure reserves but on the positive side, he said the town's town's strategic plan will stay intact.
Five of seven councillors were in favor of how that reduction was achieved after about 15 hours of debate over three days. Councillors Tara McFadden and Marni Fedeyko suggested they likely will be voting against the budget when it returns for formal adoption.
In a social media post following the deliberations, Councillor Fedeyko said she agrees with the decrease but not the process used.
"Taxes will be cut by surplus revenue and anticipated revenue," she states. "The only other options considered were safety options, valuable partnerships or initiatives, none of which I support, when we could have looked at other operational suggestions."
She says some of the comments made during deliberations were inappropriate and that it is her job as a councillor to ask questions and review all requests and options asked by her colleagues.
During the last day of deliberation, Councillor Morgan Nagel voiced disappointment in Fedeyko. He said he believed nothing could have been done to get her to vote for the budget.
"To be frank, I feel like a lot of your questions have just been grandstanding and opportunities to find a way to vote against it," Nagel stated near the end of the meeting. "We have brought the taxes down, administration gave us options to cut the taxes further, you voted against cutting those from the budget and now you're just going to find a new excuse to vote against the budget just to smear the whole thing. I want to say it hurts me, and it hurts everybody in the room."
Councillor McFadden says decreasing the taxes was important but she would have preferred addressing it from the service level of staffing.
"The big one for me would have been to be able to look at those positions, and looking at delaying some of those positions that did not have the support of this group," she said. "There are some other options there with the COLA (cost of living allowance) so this is a significantly different approach than how I would prefer to do the budget."
Earlier in the discussions, she was advocating a hiring freeze, no COLA increase for administration or council, and limiting training to what's required for certification as an alternative to using surplus funds the town could use for capital projects, including recreation.
"I think we've found a way to get to a number that we're all comfortable or confident with," says Mayor Jeff Genung. "Maybe we all don't agree with all of the line items in the budget, but overall I don't think we would ever find a budget that we would all agree with every single line item, but that's the way democracy works."
At this point, it is scheduled to be brought back with adjustments made through deliberations at council's Dec. 5 committee-of-the-whole meeting, then be on the agenda for the Dec. 12 meeting for formal adoption.
Yet to be discussed by council are the recommended stormwater, water, and wastewater increases. According to information presented at deliberations, it is proposed storm sewer, water, and wastewater for an average user increase by a total of $7.55 per month, or $90.6 per year.