Sturgeon County Council whittles away at tax increase

By Stephen Dafoe

Sturgeon County – Council emerged from two days of budget discussions Tuesday afternoon having shaved another half a percent off the increase County residents are likely to pay in 2012. Council had been looking at a 7.42 per cent tax increase heading into the discussions, but managed to trim that down to a 6.85 per cent increase two days later.

The increase translates into a $90.08 increase in municipal taxes to the average Sturgeon County home, a property valued at $420,520.

The starting point for Monday’s opening discussion was a 7.42 per cent tax increase to support the County’s budgetary needs for next year. This figure was a reduction from the 13.9 per cent increase Council had been facing Nov. 2 to fund a $3,577,770 budgetary shortfall. Administration’s recommendations at that time included leaving two full time positions and four seasonal positions vacant, extracting some gravel from the County’s own pit, and reducing the number of staff conferences and training allowances. Those suggestions shaved $1,667,687 off the budgetary shortfall.

Budget breakdown

Sturgeon County was looking at a $59.6 million budget in 2012 made up of $39.4 million in operating expenses and $20.2 million in capital expenditures.

The County’s capital budget is largely consumed by its roads, which account for 69 per cent of spending. The remainder is made up of 19 per cent for utilities, 10 per cent for vehicles and equipment and 2 per cent for capital reserves.

On the operating side of the ledger, salaries, wages and benefits for the County’s 174 full time equivalent positions consumes 45 per cent of the operating budget. Contracted services consume another 24 per cent. The remaining operating budget consists of 24 per cent for materials, good and services, 5 per cent for grants, and 2 per cent for interest on debt.
The County is looking to increase that debt in 2012. Sturgeon County’s debt ceiling is $51.2 million and the majority of County debt is for road projects. The proposed budget after two days of discussions calls for taking out $425,000 in debentures in 2012 to fund local road projects. The County’s current debt sits at $16.2 million.

Enhancements in and out

A number of service enhancements were discussed and debated Monday and Tuesday with some in and some out at the end of discussions. Several of these are proposed to be funded from Municipal Sustainability Initiative operating funds from the province. They include $100,000 for culvert and ditch maintenance, $36,000 for a recreational funding model, $36,000 for a local roads reconstruction strategy, $40,000 for drainage studies, and $50,000 for a Highway 642 road study and area structure plan.

Responding to the needs of the Northwest Upgrader project will be funded in the amount of $125,000 from contingency reserves if required. This enhancement would include engineering and other work the County needs to service the facility.

Also included in the accepted enhancements were $8,000 for Opal Road rail crossing lighting, $100,000 to fill a vacant senior engineering position, and $75,000 for an industrial land strategy.

In addition to the service enhancements and changes presented by administration, councillors had some of their own. A $14,000 reduction was achieved by deferring Township Road 572 in the County’s grid road program, making a $200,000 contribution to the general operating reserve to help with rate stabilization, and reducing Council’s conference, per diem and travel budget for 2012 by $50,000.

Council also defeated a motion to provide $100,000 to Servus Place in St. Albert for 2012. They also defeated a motion to provide $9,500 to the North Saskatchewan Watershed Alliance.

Council is set to vote on the budget at their Dec. 13 regular meeting.

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