Council shells out for seniors, water and more
Per home hike now at $71
By: Kevin Ma
| Posted: Wednesday, Dec 04, 2013 06:00 am
County residents could pay about $71 more in taxes next year now that council has made a slew of additions to next year’s budget.
County council moved unanimously at a series of meeting last week to add 45 service enhancements to the 2014 budget. About 16 items were funded through tax increases, with the rest funded through grants or reserves. Three items were rejected or withdrawn.
Administration was still calculating the cost of these new initiatives, said Rick Wojtkiw, the county’s general manager of corporate support, but the budget would likely add $71 to the tax bill of the average homeowner if passed with these additions – up $15 from the bill’s first draft.
Council spent about 45 hours last week reviewing every line of the budget, said Div. 4 Coun. Jerry Kaup, and held tough debates over many items. “It’s not a rubber stamp by any means.”
At his suggestion, council cut $50,000 from its own budget to show some leadership, Kaup said.
It’s an intense process, said Div. 1 Coun. Ferd Caron, and a big step up from his day job as a financial advisor. “It’s a much bigger picture.”
Still, he said he was comfortable with the budget, given inflationary pressures. “It’s a realistic budget that makes a lot of sense.”
The revised budget would add the equivalent of about eight full-time positions to the county if passed, Wojtkiw said, including a utilities projects officer and a firefighter.
While the firefighter was proposed as a full-year position costing $79,000 in tax dollars, Caron moved to cut it to a $39,000 half-year job. “By the time we get a firefighter in place it will probably be spring at the earliest,” he explained – why budget for a full year when the firefighter won’t be on the job for half of it?
Caron convinced council to reduce cash for the Registered Apprenticeship Program to $25,000 from the requested $50,000 and the open house program to $15,000 from $20,000 for similar reasons (these programs typically fund summer students, so a full year of cash wasn’t needed). Both of these programs were to be funded through taxes.
Council moved to spend $225,000 in grants to hire consultants and set intermunicipal priorities with St. Albert and Morinville.
“In the past,” Kaup said, “we’ve had some difficulties with municipalities within us or adjoining to us, and we’re hoping to correct a lot of that.”
At Caron’s suggestion, council moved to spend about $40,000 in Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) funds to find a fix for Alcomdale’s water supply.
Alcomdale has been under a boil-water advisory since June after its untreated well water failed provincial bacterial tests. (The treated water used by residents was safe to drink.)
“It’s kind of frustrating,” said Kaup, whose division includes Alcomdale, as residents had used water from that well for years without difficulty.
Residents were currently buying bottled water or using distillers, Kaup said. The $40,000 would be used to figure out a permanent fix for them. “Maybe in the long run we should run a (water) line there.”
In response to a request from former councillor Ken McGillis, council moved to create a $90,480 tax levy in support West Country Hearth. McGillis had asked for ongoing support to the tune of $1,160 per room a year (or $90,480 for 78 rooms) so the group could build reserves for future repairs.
Council also moved to spend $80,000 in MSI funds to do a new Villeneuve Area Structure Plan – its third attempt at the plan in 10 years.
Council trimmed half a percentage point off the budget’s tax hike by not spending any of the $150,000 set aside for council initiatives, said county spokesperson Sheila Macaulay, and saved $41,000 due to lower than expected costs to fix the Excelsior Road bridge.
Council will hold a final vote on the budget this Dec. 10.