County taxes up 1.315 per cent

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Means $117 more for most

County residents will get better roads and more cash for libraries next year now that council has approved its latest budget – a budget that will cost them about $117 more in taxes.

County council voted 5-2 in favour of the 2017 budget Tuesday. Councillors Wayne Bokenfohr and Patrick Tighe were opposed.

The $73.7 million budget includes more cash for dust suppression, bridge and road maintenance, libraries and a new full-time firefighter.

The end result is a 1.315 per cent tax hike, which works out to about $25 more for the average $502,650 home, county corporate support manager Rick Wojtkiw said.

Add in about $10 more for projected hikes in senior and education levies –neither of which are under the county’s control – and $82 more for utilities, and most homeowners will have to pay about $117 more in taxes and utilities next year.

In an interview, Mayor Tom Flynn called this year’s budget “very responsible,” noting that it featured many improved services without growth to the operating budget.

Coun. Susan Evans noted in council that this year’s operating budget actually shrank by about 0.83 per cent despite council’s additions to it.

“I couldn’t be more happy with the work administration has done.”

Tighe not a fan

Tighe criticized the budget’s 8.2 per cent rise in wages, noting that Redwater and Bon Accord froze wages in their budgets.

“It’s difficult for me to support annual increases in wages when the rest of the province is going through extremely difficult times,” he said.

Evans defended the increase, saying that administration found a lot of efficiencies when it came to staffing and that the wage hike amounted to maybe $20 more a month in employee pockets.

“With respect to wages, we’re still one of the lowest.”

Coun. Jerry Kaup noted that part of this increase was due to a recent union agreement, and that council had agreed to keep its non-union wages on pace with its union ones.

“What do you want to do, start a battle between union and non-union?”

Bokenfohr said he could not support the budget as he had not attended the budget meetings.

Fees tweaked

Council also moved to trim administrative fees for dust control and cellphone towers.

Council voted 5-2 in support of Caron’s move to reduce the late fee for dust control to $100 from $150. While he acknowledged that the fees were meant to help recover the cost of calcium chloride application, this late fee was “just astronomical” given that the actual application cost $405.

Shaw and Evans voted against the change, with Evans saying that $100 was not enough of a deterrent to get residents to sign up for dust control on time.

“This is a highly subsidized program,” Evans said, and she wanted to know how many late fees the county was collecting before changing it.

Council voted 5-2 to table Bokenfohr’s proposal to slash the fee for putting up a cellphone tower to $300 from $2,000 until they received a report from administration on Internet connectivity next year. Bokenfohr and Tighe were opposed.

Bokenfohr argued that broadband service was now a necessity for many farmers and home-based businesses, and that the current fee could deter providers from setting up towers in the county.

“Other counties have spent millions of dollars putting together network packages because they can’t entice (providers) to their area.”

Shaw argued that this was a knee-jerk reaction that went against the county’s goal of cost recovery for services.

“We need to look at it with all the information.”

Council voted 5-2 against a proposal from Tighe (backed by Bokenfohr) to reduce the fee for new HAM radio towers to $100 from $300. That fee had been introduced last year after radio operators complained about paying $2,000 to set up their towers.

Council will set the county’s mill rate in April and send tax notices out in May, Wojtkiw said.

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.