County of Wetaskiwin councilors passed their 2019 budget at their regular meeting May 6, which includes a 1.5 per cent overall tax increase.
Editor’s note: This represents an average 1.5 per cent tax increase. Some will be 3 per cent, others may be zero per cent, depending on their overall assessment.
Councilors had already examined possible budgets and tax rates at previous meetings. They had instructed staff to prepare a budget that proposed no more than a 1.5 per cent average overall tax increase for 2019.
County CAO Rod Hawken presented the agenda item to councilors. “In reference to the Council General Meeting held on April 29, 2019, County Administration reviewed options for reducing the budget to accomplish Council’s request for an average 1.5 per cent tax increase.
“The first option Administration provided on April 29, 2019 with a 3 per cent increase in the Residential Mill Rate accomplishes that. However, it requires that we reduce the budget by $1.1 million which will put the 2019 budget below the total 2018 budget (option 2 in the alternatives). Administration believes this direction is compounding the reduction in taxes from three years ago where we eliminated most of the reserve transfers for future projects.
“If the reductions are made, it may not affect the 2019 projects, but will certainly catch up to the County in future years,” stated Hawken.
Hawken did have some good news for councilors, however. The $1.1 million in budget cuts would be partially offset by gas tax funding of about $600,000 received from the federal government. Hence, for 2019, the county only had to find $500,000 in savings to keep the tax increase at 1.5 overall.
Reeve Terry Van de Kraats noted the down economy for several years has had an effect on the County of Wetaskiwin. “We have less money coming in,” said Van de Kraats.
Councilors debated several items on a list provided by Hawken.
Councilor Bill Krahn voiced concern about the lessened county revenue and cuts to projects; he moved that councilors approve a budget with an increase slightly larger than proposed, at 2.78 per cent overall.
Councilor Kathy Rooyakkers said she couldn’t support a tax increase that large, especially when the county is moving money into reserves. She said the carbon tax has had an effect on the county and lots of people in her division are still looking for work.
Councilor Josh Bishop said more thought needs to be put into future budgets. “Are we just going to tax our way out of the problem?” he asked.
Krahn’s motion was defeated by a 3-4 vote.
Councilors eventually settled on a 1.5 per cent overall tax increase and cutting $500,000 from projects, after applying the $600,000 gas tax revenue. Projects included redirecting $100,000 from a Breton RCMP program, $100,000 for intersection treatments, reduce brushing work by $150,000, cutting the IT reserve by $10,000 and reducing road construction down to $233,000.
The budget proposal was approved by a 4 to 3 vote.
Mill rates still need to be approved, which will be done at an upcoming meeting.