St. Albert’s long-term debt worked out to $779 per capita based on numbers from 2014.
The mayor recently did some comparison work, compiling 2014 population and long-term debt data provided by the province through the Municipal Affairs profiles of municipalities.
Mayor Nolan Crouse looked at the cities of Alberta along with towns of more than 15,000 people and the specialized municipality of Wood Buffalo.
St. Albert was on the lower end, with the sixth lowest debt to per capita ratio of the 23 he looked at. St. Albert’s 2014 long-term debt was $49.2-million, or $779 per person for the 2014 population of 63,255.
The lowest debt per capita rate was Spruce Grove, whose 32,036 residents shared a debt load of $16.1-million in 2014, for a per capita ratio of $504.
The highest was Medicine Hat. That city’s 63,018 residents shared a long-term debt total of more than $230-million, for a ratio of $3,664.
Crouse said keeping tax increases low is linked to a few factors, including not spending a lot of money on debt servicing.
“You can keep your tax increases modest if you keep your debt servicing modest,” he said. “Debt and tax increases are absolutely interlinked.”
He’s happy with where St. Albert is sitting in terms of its debt to population ratio, and said the low number means there’s room on the balance sheet to borrow for one of the big capital projects in the city’s future, if council decides to use loans to fund that infrastructure.
“If you have to borrow to do a library or to do a Project 9 or to do an arena, we’ve got lots of room to do that without taking your community into a terrible debt position,” Crouse said.
Crouse wants to see modest growth and an increase in the non-residential tax rate.
“We’re not in a boom/bust community, so therefore modest debt is important,” he said, adding that an increase in non-residential properties is part of why the proposed Project 9 sewer line is appealing.
St. Albert’s city council has trended towards debt-avoidance for years.
“I don’t think you’ll see it shift on this council’s term,” Crouse said, noting the next municipal election is fall 2017.
He said even if there are borrowing bylaws put into place to pay for a major project like the sewer line, the actual money likely won’t have to be borrowed for a couple years.
This means he thinks that $779 per capita from 2014 could be even lower by the end of 2016, as the population continues to grow.