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City of Estevan fine tuning its 2011 budget

Like a buffet at a Chinese restaurant, the City of Estevan's 2011 budget has been laid out before the members of city council. Now, the six councillors and Mayor Gary St.

Like a buffet at a Chinese restaurant, the City of Estevan's 2011 budget has been laid out before the members of city council.

Now, the six councillors and Mayor Gary St. Onge have the difficult task of picking what to put on their plate and what to leave at the buffet table without adding too much heft to the taxpayer's waistline.

Council met for two days last week to hear the capital project wish lists of the City's various department managers as well as their operational budgets. A handful of local organizations also made their pitch for funding.

Monday night they began the process of deciding what work they should move forward with in 2011 and what can be held off for another year.

That process is to continue this coming Monday and will be a daunting one. As it now stands, the City's general budget is in a deficit position of over $800,000 while the waste and water utility fund is $946,126 over budget.

If the City were to proceed with the numbers where they currently sit, it would require a tax increase of two mills and a water bill increase of 15 per cent. St. Onge said both possibilities are unpalatable to the members of council and they will need to make some tough decisions.

"We want to get down to where it is manageable; we don't want to go up two mills and 15 per cent on the water bills (the taxpayers) would drown us," St. Onge said after Monday's meeting.

"We are trying to find out what things we can cut or are not as important, Priority 3's, or certain things that we probably couldn't get done this year anyways. We also want to place an emphasis on some of the things (that weren't completed in 2010).

"The tough one is going to be in the water utility. There is not a lot we can cut there, so many of those things are necessary. That is going to be a lot tougher than operations. For example, there is one where we have been waiting all this time to put our waste from the water treatment plant out onto some land west of us. That (study) is $100,000 and there are several like that and some that we just have to do."

A handful of items were trimmed from the budget at Monday's meeting, among them boulevard improvements in the city's northeast area, asphalt overlays in the Hillside area and a traffic light synchronization system.

Council did give the go-ahead on some purchases at Monday's meeting. Among them were a handful of computers, radios and workstations for City employees. Approval was also given to begin stocking Spectra Place with everything from tables and chairs to defibrillators and a flooring system that will cover the ice when events are being held in the new facility. The total cost of the Spectra Place capital items was $645,933.

It's expected more items from the capital budget as well as the operational side of the budget will also be approved and cut during the next council meeting and next couple of months.

"It will continue for the next few weeks but we hope to take a real big step next Monday because we'll get a copy of the new capital budget and see where we are sitting there. We will also be meeting on operations with several managers and we'll see what their excuses are for some of these things. I think we'll get a lot done next week and I hope in the new year we can get at it and really get moving."

Although they do not directly affect the general fund, a number of other interesting items are still on the table. One that drew a great deal of debate is a T-Rex Aerial Fire Truck that was requested by Estevan Fire Rescue Services. At a cost of $1.2 million - money that would come from long term borrowing - the truck is obviously a huge investment for the City but one that was also deemed necessary due to Estevan's growth and the emergence of wooden buildings over three stories high.

Council requested more information about the truck from Chief Ron Tocker and indicated they would also like to hear what other options might be available.

The budget also contains a handful of items that would help Estevan prepare for what is expected to be a very busy next few years such as a new water reservoir on the city's north end, a new subdivision in the north and a modular home development on the south side of the city, near the Estevan Archery Club.

The water reservoir is expected to proceed but the future of the new subdivision and modular home park will rest on the decision of a yet unnamed out of province developer who is looking at a developing a number of lots north of Wellock road. If the developer moves ahead, the City won't need as many new lots and will instead focus on the modular home facility. Should the developer not go forward, the City will need more lots developed and the park will likely move to the backburner.