No tax hike in budget, county council hears

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UPDATE
This week’s budget meetings were postponed indefinitely Tuesday after council voted to fire CAO Peter Tarnawsky. Interim CAO Rick Wojtkiw said this would likely mean council would have to pass an interim budget instead. The content of said budget is not known at this time.

 

County residents could see a zero per cent tax hike this fall, suggests a draft of this year’s budget – but they’ll still be out $136 more than last year due to schools, seniors and utilities.

Sturgeon County council sits down for three days of meetings today to finalize the 2018 county budget.

The budget proposes some $45 million in tax-funded expenditures, about 48 per cent of which is for transportation items such as road and bridge repair, budget documents suggest.

That’s about $3.2 million more than last year, said county corporate support general manager Rick Wojtkiw. All of this increase can be covered by assessment growth.

“We’re going to recognize almost 20 per cent growth in machinery and equipment,” Wojtkiw said, most of which was due to the new fractionator at Pembina’s Redwater plant coming online. Residential and non-residential assessments are also up about two and three per cent, respectively.

The upshot is that the county’s tax revenues have gone up enough to cover its higher expenses, so administration is recommending no change to the county’s tax rate.

“Although Alberta is leading (the nation) with growth, we’re still in a climate that has high unemployment rates,” Wojtkiw said, when asked about the zero per cent tax hike.

“It’s incumbent upon us to mitigate any economic conditions as far as we can for our ratepayers.”

Budget documents show that the owner of the typical $445,765 home in Sturgeon would pay the same $1,657 in municipal taxes this year as they did the last if this budget were approved as is, which is less than they would pay in Strathcona County, Morinville or St. Albert.

However, that homeowner would still likely pay $136 more in all taxes due to projected hikes to the school and seniors’ tax and higher water and sewer rates.

Wojtkiw said this year’s budget did not include a one per cent hike to cover legacy drainage issues (as the last three did) as administration felt this item would be covered by cash from the Sturgeon Refinery (see below).

Mayor Alanna Hnatiw said she was definitely in favour of the budget’s proposed zero per cent tax hike.

“I campaigned on us needing to do better with what we had, and I haven’t changed my position on that.”

Additional items

Council will review some 22 proposed service enhancements this week during budget deliberations, budget documents show.

Among the proposals are $1.1 million related to road maintenance, $250,000 to replace the glitchy software behind the county’s online dog and fire permit system, and $30,000 for tree maintenance. There’s also $100,000 to do an agricultural master plan, $190,000 for an infrastructure master plan, and $225,000 for a Sturgeon Valley master plan.

Hnatiw said she had asked administration to look into adding an organizational and efficiency review to the budget.

Wojtkiw estimated the cost of such a review at about $150,000, and said council could direct that this be funded using the extra $175,000 administration recently learned it had due to changes to the Local Authorities Pension Plan.

Council will also look at what to do with the $15 million in taxes it expects to get from the Sturgeon Refinery. These dollars are handled separately from the budget under the county’s significant growth revenue policy.

Should this money materialize, administration recommends putting about $5.7 million to reserves and debt, $5.2 million to fixing infrastructure, $2.4 million to community building, about $583,000 to tax stabilization, and the rest split evenly between better services and mitigating industrial impacts in the Alberta Industrial Heartland region.

The finished budget will go to council for a vote Dec. 12. Visit https://goo.gl/AByAxd for details on the budget.

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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.