The final touches are being put on a draft 2024/25 budget for the Town of Altona. 

The draft was presented to Council in December at a preliminary planning session and was prepared by administration according to the priorities set out by Council within its strategic plan and to address operational priorities identified within the Town’s long-term capital plan, explained Mayor Harv Schroeder. "Council provided administration with feedback and suggestions. Since that meeting, administration has been adjusting the budget in response to that feedback and to new items or projects."

A major component of the budget is the capital plan that Council uses to ensure that long-term spending is prioritized and focused on needs versus wants. 

"I think the administration has done a really good job of informing us and giving us opportunities to put money where it makes sense," noted Schroeder. 

As for what Council has pegged as priorities for the 24/25 budget, that includes a comprehensive road renewal project. 

"I've said in the past that it's great to move forward and spend money to grow the economy, but we need to look in the rearview mirror sometimes and take a look at what needs repair," said Schroeder, giving props to the Utilities department for its multi-year effort to reline the community's aging sewer lines. "We're getting close to catching up, but we need to look at roads. Those are needs, they are not wants."

Building an accessible washroom facility at Centennial Park is also on the list. That's the result of a walk and roll exercise hosted by the Accessibility committee last summer. Council has also pegged improvements and the installation of a columbarium at the cemetery south of town. 

Additional focus areas are:
· Multi-year plan for Civic Centre improvements

· Recreation and Active Transportation Master Plan

· Mini Pumper Fire Truck

· New Public Works Wheel Loader

· Landfill Site and Waste Diversion improvements

· Business Park expansion project

· MEC/Rec: new electric ice resurfacer, new flooring for the Curling Club lounge, Rhineland Pioneer Centre and MEC improvements

· Trails improvements

· Gallery in the Park building improvements

· Asset Management project completion

· Community Grants program

Schroeder added, Council is also conscious of the need to balance funding for operations with the tax impact on the average resident while also sticking to several previous long-term commitments that have been made to support economic growth like the Kiddie Sunshine Daycare project, the industrial park expansion and tax incentive programs. All this while also taking into consideration inflation, which Schroeder says has affected all of the Town's departments. 

"In 2022 and 2023, after we presented the budget, inflation went crazy, so we had to definitely hold back on things, and administration was really good. The departments were really good at spending where they needed to and holding back on where they could. Budget planning then for 2024 continues, but it doesn't impact us as much as it did during that time."

However, Schroeder noted insurance costs have continued to go up, growing at a double-digit pace for the past several years. He gives credit to the Association of Manitoba Municipalities for making beneficial adjustments to its insurance program to reduce the impact of these cost pressures.

"Insurance is not a factor that prevents a significant project from moving forward," he noted. "Those decisions come down to which project or expense takes priority over the other. There are always more ideas and needs for funding than what’s reasonably allowed within the budget."

A final draft will be reviewed by Council at a meeting scheduled on March 14th prior to the public consultation period and Financial Plan Public Hearing on March 26th.