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Sturgeon County approves 6.85 per cent tax hike

County council’s approval of a 2012 budget that calls for a 6.85-per-cent tax hike has left Mayor Donald Rigney fuming that government spending is “right out of control.

County council’s approval of a 2012 budget that calls for a 6.85-per-cent tax hike has left Mayor Donald Rigney fuming that government spending is “right out of control.”

County residents will have to pay about $90 more in taxes next year after council voted 4-3 in favour of the budget, with Rigney and councillors Don McGeachy and Dave Kluthe opposed.

The roughly $58 million budget, which features about $39 million in operational and $19 million in capital spending, features a 6.85 per cent hike in municipal taxes, which works out to about $90 for the average homeowner.

Rigney made few comments on the budget during debate, but voiced deep dissatisfaction in a later interview. He estimated that council collects about 320 per cent more in municipal taxes today in terms of dollars than it did 10 years ago ($24 million versus $7 million) and spends about 330 per cent more on wages. Meanwhile, its population has barely increased 10 to 12 per cent.

“We have the most expensive government right now of all our neighbours,” he said, pegging government spending at about $1,154 per resident — above even St. Albert’s $1,140. “Our spending is right out of control, and has to be reined in.”

Council needs to take a stronger lead in the budget, Rigney said.

“It’s instrumental that council set the guidelines” and direct administration to make a budget that has a specific tax target (e.g. a three-per-cent cut). They didn’t this time, and administration came back with the hike. “We have to hold the line and set a zero or a decreased budget.”

Utility rates were set to rise by nine per cent, according to budget documents, which works out to about $8.98 for water and wastewater. Administration had originally proposed three consecutive hikes of 15 per cent to set up reserves to fix the county’s water pipes in the future. In late November council changed that to five hikes of nine per cent.

Council made numerous changes to the budget in late November that trimmed the tax hike from the 7.42 per cent originally proposed by administration, noted Rick Wojtkiw, the county’s general manager of corporate services. One of those was a decision to borrow $425,000 for roadwork. Due to a spreadsheet error, this had to be raised to $466,000 to keep the tax hike at 6.85 per cent.

Coun. Kluthe moved to cut administration’s training and travel budget by 39.7 per cent, but withdrew the motion once he learned, after many confusing minutes, that said cut had already been made. He then voiced his opposition to the budget, saying that he would not support anything more than a four-per-cent tax increase.

“It needs to be reduced in some other ways.”

Kevin Ma

About the Author: 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.
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