County of Wetaskiwin Reeve, Josh Bishop, spoke on decisions made by the County for 2020 and 2021 in the State of Wetaskiwin Region Address hosted by the Wetaskiwin and Leduc Chambers of Commerce.
Bishop began his presentation mentioning that although it has been a challenging learning curve transitioning a lot of County business to be done virtually, including County Council meetings, that it is a good thing and much needed technology updates have come through for County Council Chambers.
Updating the sound system in the Council Chambers allows for more County residents to be able to virtually attend Council meetings and clearly hear what is being discussed.
Bishop then went on to discuss the 2021 provincial budget including the major change to have a 25 per cent MSI funding reduction in the next three years.
“MSI funding is critical for infrastructure projects and community funding in the County,” says Bishop.
He outlined that in 2020 the County of Wetaskiwin utilized just over $3 million in MSI Capital funding to complete a variety of construction work including an additional 33 km of shoulder pulls in the County, some pavement overlays, and construction to G3 Resource Road and the Alder Flats Lagoon. MSI also provided support to community groups including PLACE, Falun and District Seniors Centre and Yeoford Community Centre.
“This funding is necessary to ensure that the County is able to continue to support critical infrastructure in our community,” says Bishop. “Obviously, any reduction in this funding will not only effect our road infrastructure but also the future sustainability of our facilities.”
This reduction is a continued blow after the provincial government decided that municipalities will individually be required to spend more money on police funding which is slated to increase every year for at least the next three years.
“We just keep getting hit with things left and right, year after year it seems. The most significant being the continued increase for the police funding which will see the County paying $855,012.00 by 2023,” says Bishop. “While the County is hopeful to see more boots on the ground, this cost will have a significant impact on our budget without a guarantee of an increased level of service for our residents.”
Because of this increase the County has had to discontinue their crime analyst position and the County no longer has any enhanced RCMP members.
“In addition to increased provincial downloads the County is also dealing with over $3.2 million in unpaid oil and gas taxes from the last six years,” says Bishop.
“Further complicating things was the Government of Alberta’s proposed Oil and Gas Assessment Model Review.”
The provincial government’s original review would have drastically reduced the assessment of oil and gas wells and pipelines throughout the province. Bishop says that under the proposed model the County would have lost anywhere from between $1.9 million to $3.8 million in yearly revenues.
In October of 2020 the Government of Alberta announced a pause on the review for three years although changes to the assessment already resulted in a loss of $725,00 for the County in 2021.
“The County recognized that the last year has been very difficult on everyone. Despite COVID-19, the economic downturn, and increased provincial downloading, the County is looking to balance our budget in 2021 with as little impact as possible to our ratepayers.”
“In order to help balance our budget, the County is planning on reducing spending in a variety of areas,” says Bishop. “All departments either have a status quo budget or a reduced budget.” The two exceptions are road construction and recreation, which have both increased due to previous agreements with the Town of Millet and City of Wetaskiwin.
Bishop says the County’s final budget should be approved on March 23, 2021.
“Based on our current financial situation and the results of our 2020 public engagements, Council has decided to remove the subsidy on dust control. We are also continually looking at ways to reduce red tape at the County.”
Bishop reiterated in his address that Hamlet Revitalization is still a priority that the County will continue to work on this year.
Last year many road and culverts in the County faced damage and repairs because of storms and weather conditions.
“The County continues to experience a significant infrastructure deficit and challenges related to spring melt and heavy rainfall. Therefore for the 2021 budget we’ve added $300,000 to our road construction budget to help address more roads this year,” says Bishop.
To finish the presentation Bishop reminded those watching that the County’s municipal election is in 2021 with nominations closing Sept. 20, 2021 and Election day on October 18, 2021.