Sturgeon County’s council contenders believe the property taxes are fairly reasonable, but have a mixture of concerns about how the dollars are being spent.
The county has imposed three consecutive tax increases, 2.65 per cent in 2010; 2.48 per cent in 2009 and 4.9 per cent in 2008.
Those tax increases stand in contrast to the budgets the previous council wrote, which included property tax increases closer to seven per cent.
All of the candidates running in the three divisional races say they believe the current taxes in Sturgeon County are reasonable, especially compared to the rest of the Capital region.
Division 4 contender Dave Kluthe said lower taxes would be great, but the county is ahead of its neighbours and that should continue to be the focus.
“Everybody would like to be paying lower taxes, but I think they are reasonable,” he said. “We have to be competitive.”
Kluthe said the one area of spending he questions is the money the county has given to other municipalities for recreation facilities.
He cited the example of Servus Credit Union Place, which the county contributed to, but he said few, if any residents of his division actually use it.
The other Division 4 challenger, Al Homeniuk said he believes residents need more information about where their money is going, something he hasn’t received from the current council.
“I think there has to be more communication about where the money is being spent,” he said “I don’t really know what their priorities are.”
Over this term the county has taken on a considerable amount of debt, for several large infrastructure projects.
While still well under provincially imposed limits, the county’s debt rose to $13.6 million in 2009 from $8.6 million at the end of 2007, according to Sturgeon’s audited financial statements.
Division 5 candidate Wayne Bullock said the amount of debt council approved was one of his primary concerns when he worked for the county as director of transportation.
“I think this a really dangerous path.”
Bullock said he was also disappointed to see the county dipping into its reserves during this time.
Reserves fell to $11.6 million from $12.2 million as the county dipped into its savings.
Incumbent Division 5 Coun. Joe Milligan said he is not overly concerned about either number. He said council made the decisions it did because they felt revenues would recover and they didn’t want to use taxes to make up the difference.
This year the county will have a better handle on things and the reserves will be returned, he said.
“It has to be paid back.”
Incumbent Division 3 Coun. Ken McGillis said he believes Sturgeon is in a good position overall, but ultimately it comes down to whether the taxes pay for residents’ expectations.
He has heard from some residents that they would like better-maintained roads, which will come at a cost.
McGillis said the county can’t always simply move money around to pay for services. He cited a decision from 2008 to remove money from the road gravel budget that led to less gravel being applied.
With the wet weather the county experienced this year that will likely have to be revisited, he said.
McGillis also is concerned about reserve levels, explaining he was disappointed when council removed money from them during this term.
“Just like in a household budget the unexpected happens and we are required to dip into our reserves,” he said. “I don’t think there is a collective appreciation of the need for strong reserves.”
McGillis’ challenger Catlin Letendre could not be reached for comment.
Election day is Oct. 18.