By Stephen Dafoe
Sturgeon County – County Council approved its 2012 operating and capital budget in a 4-3 vote Tuesday morning. The $58,068,712 budget represents a projected 6.85 per cent municipal property tax increase for County residents in 2012. It is anticipated that increase will translate to a $98 increase in the municipal tax portion of spring tax bills for the average Sturgeon County home valued at at $420,520.
Council and administration had been facing a 13.9 per cent tax increase early in the budget process, a number that was whittled down to 7.42 per cent tax increase prior to heading into budget discussions Nov. 28 and 29. Councillors emerged from those discussions having shaved the increase down to 6.85 per cent.
An accounting error was identified Tuesday morning in the amount of $41,000, necessitating an increase to the amount the County will debenture for local road improvement in 2012. That amount, originally targeted at $425,000 will now be increased to $466,000 to maintain the 6.85 per cent increase that came out of Nov. 28 and 29’s budget debate and discussions.
No substantial changes
Late November discussion had councillors looking at a number of service enhancements, weighing each on its merits. Several of the approved enhancements 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 to assist Morinville in work being done to that end. 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 in late November, 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.
The only alteration to the budget brought forward Tuesday morning was a request from Councillor David Kluthe to reduce administration’s budget for conferences and travel. Considerable time was spent discussing the matter during the council meeting; however, after it was realized Administration had reduced their budget for those items by 15.5 per cent prior to the budget talks, the motion was removed by Kluthe.
But the councillor was not prepared to vote in favour of the budget itself. Kluthe had been looking for a budget with no more than a 4 per cent increase for residents in 2012. “I’ll not be supporting this budget,” he said. “It needs to be reduced in other ways.”
Kluthe’s disapproval of the 2012 budget was shared with Councillor Don McGeachy and Mayor Don Rigney, who also voted in opposition to the budget with Kluthe.