The County of Wetaskiwin has approved their 2018 budget at a total of just over $19 million, and it will likely include a three per cent increase to the mill rate councilors decided at their budget meeting Apr. 17.
The actual budget figure is $19,036,000, excluding school and seniors requisition.
The afternoon budget meeting featured reeve and council reviewing the latest draft of the 2018 budget. They went through every department and asked staff questions and voiced concerns about certain points.
Director of Finance Grace French noted the budget as submitted is based on a three per cent mill rate increase pretty much across the board. However, the mill rate is approved as a separate bylaw at an upcoming meeting. The mill rate and a property’s assessment determine what a particular tax bill will look like.
The meeting began with a presentation by Director of Assessment Services Rene Boutin, who gave a report on assessment in the municipality. “Each year the Assessment Department conducts an analysis of the market in order to determine the changes to property values due to market forces,” stated the memo in the agenda package. “Property sales from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2017 were used in this analysis. The Assessment Department visits 20 per cent of all properties within the county each year, as well as additional inspections as necessary.”
Boutin said the market remained fairly flat while marginal growth is expected next year. He noted the County of Wetaskiwin’s residential tax base has steadily grown since 2006, nearly $1 billion, to almost $2 billion now.
He noted commercial property sales are less common than residential. A decrease in growth was noticed and involved an annexation by the Town of Millet this year. Machinery/equipment, which is mostly oil and gas sites, is at its lowest point of growth in 10 years. Farmland rates have remained static for decades, and no one is expecting any changes. Linear assessment has also dropped after pipelines have been shuttered; linear is at its lowest point since 2005.
French pointed out to councilors two items that the county collects but aren’t part of the municipal budget: school requisition and seniors homes/WALA.
These appear on resident’s tax bills but the county council has no control over them.
Councilors discussed the biggest part of the 2018 budget first, the Public Works department. Director of Public Works Neil Powell answered council’s questions and also noted bridge funding has increased by $100,000 in this budget while road construction and oiling remain the same as last year.
Councilors asked Powell about the price of diesel fuel, street lights and a number of other details, but questions seemed to come back to one concern: engineering costs. Councilor Lyle Seely pointed out the engineering costs listed in the budget for a shoulder pull was $100,000.
Powell said the engineering costs are based on hourly rates and CAO Rod Hawken pointed out some projects require specialized engineers. Reeve Kathy Rooyakkers also voiced concern over engineering costs, citing about $500,000 budget for engineering road construction projects. Councilors mused the option of hiring a staff engineer to handle some jobs and reduce the impact on the budget. Councilor Terry Van de Kraats noted staff cost more than just a salary, they also need office space, software, some need vehicles etc.
Hawken said staff will investigate hiring a staff engineer and bring information back at a future meeting.
Councilors asked about a grant to STARS air ambulance; staff said it’s based on per capita payment and the most recent census data.
Councilors also went through Financial Services, Assessment, Fire/emergency and Communications departments. When arriving at Building Maintenance, councilor Seely asked if some of the projects could be postponed, such as a new roof for a vehicle garage on the west end of the county. It was stated that some of the work was being paid out of reserves, so postponing it wouldn’t have an effect on the budget.
Hawken noted during this conversation staff are planning to do a comprehensive review of all municipal property to see what, if any, is unnecessary.
This department discussion was lengthy, and revolved around the hiring of RCMP, community peace officers and bylaw officers. The budget included funding for four CPOs and one bylaw officer. Rooyakkers said she’s heard from the public that they want more RCMP presence in the community.
The issue of dogs running loose was also discussed. Rooyakkers said the taxpayers should not have to pay the price for unsupervised dogs. Hawken noted the county has a bylaw and fine structure in place for loose dogs, but the staff try to use their judgment rather than a heavy-handed approach.
Councilor Ken Adair stated he sees the number of dogs the same as past years, but the number of irresponsible dog owners appears to be increasing.
More departments including Planning and Development were examined.
Vote on budget
Hawken said this proposed budget was assembled with the assumption the mill rate will go up by three per cent. He said if councilors finalized the 2018 budget, staff can bring back a mill rate bylaw at the May 1 council meeting.
Councilor Dale Woitt said he saw a three per cent increase as fair. It was noted several times at the meeting that the mill rate is only part of what makes a tax bill; the property assessment is the other part.
The budget was passed by a 6 to 1 vote, with Seely voting against.