Sturgeon County faces grim fiscal future
Capital budget highlights looming funding shortfalls
By: Peter Boer
| Posted: Wednesday, Sep 26, 2012 06:00 am
Sturgeon County has a funding problem and its options for fixing it will grow increasingly slim, members of county council heard when the 2013 capital budget was presented Monday.
“Is it affordable? Not really,” said county commissioner Peter Tarnawsky. “Can it be integrated by the organization as we are equipped today? Likely not.”
Tarnawsky’s message was just one of many bleak outlooks manager after manager offered when explaining the rationale behind the proposed $20.355 million capital budget for the coming year.
While that represents an increase of $1.772 million over last year, no new tax dollars will be used for capital projects, administration explained. Tax funding will remain at 2012 levels of approximately $3 million.
But from roads to bridges to utilities to all other infrastructure, the situation is starting to look dire as the county is looking at shortfalls in completing important projects.
One project — the Starkey Road bridge — stands out as an example, short approximately $3 million.
“We do have a revenue issue,” Tarnawsky said. “We are waiting for the industrial revenues that we have anticipated for many years to start hitting the income statement. We are exploring options for increased revenues.”
Those will be presented in the operating budget Oct. 1.
When it comes to roads and bridges alone in its 10-year capital plan, Sturgeon will face a shortfall as early as 2014. With current taxes and grants factored into $154 million in projects over the next decade, the county will be short more than $10 million as early as 2014.
“Very few of the projects are discretionary,” said Tarnwasky. “Citizens are demanding roads be paved and upgraded. Our growing infrastructure deficit, it’s significant dollars.”
Neither Coun. Karen Shaw or Mayor Don Rigney had much positive to say about what they saw Monday, with both adding the presentation was preliminary.
“Council is going to be faced with difficult choices,” Rigney said. “The demand far exceeds the supply, as does the ability to do these things.”
The county is facing growth pressures, with residents, particularly in Sturgeon Valley, demanding more urban-level standards. The county is also facing demands from industry to provide upgraded infrastructure, such as in the industrial heartland or at the Northwest Upgrading site.
“There’s a misconception that everyone thinks we’re the old rich county,” said Shaw. “We have challenges like any other municipality and we have big challenges.”
The biggest issue, said Shaw, is the county is approaching a point where everything needs to be dealt with and little can be put off to a later date to save money.
“The most pressing is all of them. All of them. It’s like doing maintenance on a vehicle — if you don’t do any, one day it will all fall apart and crumble.”
No potential tax rate has yet been revealed. Council will be briefed on the draft operational budget Oct. 1.