County Council narrowly passes 2011 budget

By Stephen Dafoe

Sturgeon County – County ratepayers will see a 6.2 per cent increase in their 2011 property taxes now that County Council has approved the 2011 budget. The budget passed with a 4-3 vote Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Don Rigney and Councillors David Kluthe and Don McGeachy voting against the $54 million budget on the basis of the increase.

During final discussions before the vote Councillor Karen Shaw said there is often a focus on the percentile increase rather than the increase in dollars ratepayers would have to pay. In the case of Sturgeon County’s now passed 2011 budget County ratepayers can expect an average increase of $74.83 per household. That figure is based on the average County home being assessed at roughly $410,000.

Although not thrilled with a 6.2 per cent increase, Councillor Shaw said she supported the budget because she felt it would allow the County to catch up with where it needs to be.

“Over the past few years we’ve robbed Peter to pay Paul and we have to play catch up,” Shaw said, adding she believed residents were more concerned that the County was spending their tax dollars wisely. “You can’t keep cutting, cutting, cutting and be sustainable.”

Councillor Joe Milligan in offering his support for the budget said the increase would allow the County to carry on more economically and diligently. “Six-point-two is not that bad when you look at the amount of money they’re spending,” Milligan said of the enhancements and infrastructure projects in the now approved budget. “I think we have to bite the bullet.”

Councillor Tom Flynn also came out in support of the budget, pointing out that one third of the 2011 budget increase was going towards debenture repayments. “We’re paying for our loans, and this is the downside of borrowing a bunch of money,” Flynn said.

Councillor Ken McGillis also came out in support of the budget, stating that although the increase was perhaps the highest the County had seen, it was a reflection of taxes being too low over the past couple of budgetary years.

“We’re putting some gravel back in the budget that we foolishly took out,” McGillis said, adding County ratepayers had some expectations on enhanced services, many of which the 2011 budget is delivering on. “I find 6.2 [per cent] to be a high number unless we look at it objectively.”

Councillor David Kluthe acknowledged the ratepayer expectations on services McGillis alluded to but was opposed to the budget. “I know expectations are high,” he said. “They [ratepayers] might have to have their expectations lowered. You can’t always get what you want.” Kluthe said he felt more cuts were needed to bring down the percentile increase.

Mayor Don Rigney said he believed the 2011 Sturgeon County budget represented the largest increase in expenditures in County history.

Rigney went on to question the process the County uses in its budget preparations, recommending that although the process was good, perhaps some changes were needed to make it better. The mayor suggested council could perhaps provide administration with an acceptable tax increase number to work with in future budgets.

“Everybody wants more services and they want lower taxes,” he said. “That’s the dilemma we face.”

Although originally in support of the budget, Councillor McGillis indicated that perhaps he should be prepared to turn it down, a situation that would have forced council to hold additional meetings before the end of the year or pass an interim budget that would allow administration to spend 25 per cent of its 2010 operational budget and freeze any capital spending until a 2011 budget was passed. McGillis said defeating the budget would allow council to take a little more time and get everything on the table – something he felt was not fully realized during discussions over the past couple of weeks.

“We’ve made a mockery of the meetings we’ve had so far,” McGillis said of the 20-some hours council spent discussing the budget and enhancement programs.

McGillis was the last of the four councillors to raise his hand in favour of the budget when the vote was called.

2011 Budget highlights

Sturgeon county’s 2011 budget represents an increase of 6.2 per cent and is the highest percentile increase since 2007 when taxes increased by 6.48 per cent. In 2008 County residents saw their taxes go up by 4.9 per cent and drop to 2.48 per cent and 2.65 in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

Infrastructure projects included in the 2011 budget include Sunnyside Road north of the bridge, paving Excelsior Road from Highway 28 to Hewitt Estates and paving Range Road 230 from Highway 643 to Township Road 563. Additionally, a total of 7,900 metres of subdivision roads are scheduled for work. These include Green Acres, North Point, Rosal Acres, Regency Estates, Hu Haven and Calahoo.

The County is looking at several community investments in 2011, including replacement of a seniors’ bus, creating a Community Services Master Plan, contributing towards the Gibbons / bon Accord pumper truck and a Gibbons emergency Response Unit. Additional projects include a Municipal Development Plan, revisions to the Sturgeon Valley Area Structure Plan, expansions to the Sturgeon Valley Trail network and improvements to Sturgeon Valley Park.

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