Public hearing touts balanced municipal budget

It’s been a tumultuous couple of years for the residents of Virden. In 2019, the town’s water quality issue that led to a water conservation notice came to a head, moving town council to rectify it on tight budgets and short deadlines.

Just three months into 2020, the entire province is almost completely shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic; an unprecedented situation that has left municipal leaders juggling provincial health orders alongside continued essential operations.

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The Town of Virden’s 2020 General Operating Budget was presented to the public at budgetary hearing in the Sunrise Banquet Hall in Tundra Oil and Gas Place on May 25. The public attending in person and online via live, online video feed heard about a plan that seems to have weathered the storms of the past 36 months.

The plan, which was to receive a third and final reading at council’s regular meeting on Tuesday, shows the town collecting $11.8 million in revenue with expected expenditures of the same amount.

The budget, as presented, is balanced.

“Overall, the town is in a very good financial position,” Virden Mayor Murray Wright said on Monday. “Council kept the increases in the budget to a minimum while still allowing for transfers to reserve funds to finance upcoming infrastructure projects.”

The town’s capital expenditures for 2020 total $6.85 million. The largest is a $3 million project to sink and lay pipe for a new well, one of the results of the arsenic-related water quality issues found and dealt with through 2018 and 2019. Half of the project will be paid through Virden’s Utility Fund. The rest will be borrowed.

Other capital projects include tech upgrades, town equipment purchases, street and bridge construction, recreational facility maintenance needs, and land development and purchases.

The timing of COVID-19 lockdown allowed administrators to take the situation into account during development of the financial plan. Councilors budgeted for a $150,000 decrease in the budget of the Parks and Recreation Department, mostly due to cancelled events at Tundra Oil and Gas Place.

There have some savings due to the delay in the opening of the town’s swimming pool, but council expects the facility to reopen in some way, which will fill two vacant positions in the Parks and Recreation Department.

“With the lifting of restrictions, we may need to start filling them sooner than originally contemplated,” Mayor Wright said. “Expenses will be down somewhat with not having the pool operating as soon as it normally does and having the doors closed at Tundra Oil and Gas Place, but they don’t offset the large drop in revenue.”

Recreation and Cultural Services are the second largest expense according to the 2020 budget, set at $1.62 million. Fiscal Services tops the list at $3.77 million. Environmental Health Services and Transportation Services will run on about $1.6 million, while General Government Services will cost about $1 million.

The town’s revenues will come from $6.175 million in tax levies and grants in lieu of taxes. Another $3.9 million will come from public services provided by the municipality. Roughly $1.4 million of this comes from Water Consumer Sales, which are expected to return to normal after dropping to just a half million dollars in 2019.

© Virden Empire-Advance