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Sturgeon budget recommends 6.1% tax hike

Sturgeon County's proposed budget calls for a 6.1 per cent property tax increase, but councillors are already saying it will have to come down before they can give it their approval. On a $410,000 home, the 6.

Sturgeon County's proposed budget calls for a 6.1 per cent property tax increase, but councillors are already saying it will have to come down before they can give it their approval.

On a $410,000 home, the 6.1 per cent tax increase would mean an extra $73.65 per year and on a piece of farmland valued at $40,000 the increase means an extra $16.85 per year.

Newly elected Division 4 Coun. Dave Kluthe said he doesn't think the increase is reasonable.

"To me, and I think everyone will agree, that is a little on the high side. I think we are going to have to work on bringing that down."

Councillors were only presented with the budget last week and Kluthe said he is still crunching the numbers and looking at areas which can be trimmed.

Division 6 Coun. Karen Shaw said this budget represents what administration wants and it will be up to council to figure out what the county can afford.

"That is really, as far as I am concerned, the Christmas wish list and I will do my absolute best to keep the absolute minimum increase possible."

The county is facing lower revenues from industrial assessments and higher payments on its debt from new borrowing the county took on last year.

Sturgeon took on new debt in 2010 primarily for the 195 Avenue project and 1.8 per cent of the tax increase can be attributed to those new debt payments.

The value of pipelines and other industrial property running through the county has also declined, leading to lower payments coming in, which adds up to another 1.7 per cent.

After that, 1.94 per cent of the increase is going to capital projects.

In total the county has more than $16 million in capital projects proposed for next year with most of the funding coming from provincial grant dollars.

The projects on next year's list include upgrades to parts of Sunnyside Road, Excelsior Road and Range Road 230 as well as subdivision road improvements in Green Acres, North Point, Rosal Acres, Regency Estates and Hu Haven as well as the Hamlet of Calahoo.

The county's general manager of corporate services Rick Wojtkiw, said just 0.66 per cent of the increase or $162,000 is related to higher operational costs.

Shaw said that, while there is not a lot of new spending, she doesn't believe the county is doing enough to look at its base budget.

"I still think we can get better at delivering services with the dollars that we are using now."

She notes the sheer volume of paper the county produces is one area where the county could cut back and save money.

Council will begin reviewing, debating and changing the budget over the next few weeks starting on Friday, with future meetings set for Dec. 1 and Dec. 3.

Balancing act

There are also more than 60 enhancements or business cases for council to review.

These enhancements include proposals that would bring more money into county coffers as well as projects that could add to the tax bill.

Administration has thinned out the 60 enhancements to about 30 they deem worth considering this year.

Most of those that administration is recommending are enhancements that will bring in more money to the county through higher fees.

The 6.1 per cent tax increase being proposed has factored into it, funding from the enhancements that bring in revenue, but does not include any of the proposals that would add to the budget.

Some of the proposals that will bring in revenue include raising the rates at which the county's crews do mowing work and charging developers for inspecting driveway approaches on newly subdivided lands.

Some of the projects that would cost money include funding for a fire truck in Gibbons and funding for more grass mowing in wildfire-prone areas.

Kluthe concedes much of the county's spending is already committed, but he still believes there is room to manoeuvre.

"There is not a lot you can do about stuff that is already done. We are going to have to work with what we can work with."

Shaw said she thinks this will be a very lean budget with the county possibly doing less capital work and no new purchases.

She also believes the county might need to dip into its reserve accounts, which stand at approximately $10 million, rather than go to the taxpayers.

"I am not a huge fan in having million of dollars in your coffers and piggy banks, which is taxpayer's money."

A single per cent increase in the tax rate represents $332,000.