Town approves 5.33 per cent tax increase for 2014

Residents will see a tax increase of 5.33 per cent next year.

Residents will see a tax increase of 5.33 per cent next year.

Council approved the tax hike during its regular meeting Dec. 10, which provides an additional $256,000 in revenue, said Betty Quinlan, director of corporate services. She anticipates another $100,000 of taxes due to increased assessment.

The 2014 interim budget shows $1.8 million in new residential assessment compared to $7.6 million in 2013, but new commercial assessment has almost tripled to $10.1 million for 2014 up from $3.5 million in 2013.

Despite the increase, Quinlan said the town’s taxes are still lower than surrounding communities, she estimates the average increase at $99 for every house valued at $300,000. “Or approximately $12 to $13 per month per taxpayer.”

“It’s nice to be lower,” said Quinlan in an interview.

But less taxes also means a certain amount of servicing gets sacrificed, she added. “It’s kind of a double edged sword.”

Mayor Rick Bonnett is pleased with budget. “It’s a very good budget in which we move forward.”

“Obviously it’s about our people and making our people feel more comfortable,” he added.

Bonnett wants to ensure town staff are able to provide the necessary services to the town and the community. The entire $21.6 million budget shows operational spending at $14.5 million and $7 million in capital spending.

Improving communications

There were some changes provided to administration from councillors during budget deliberations last month.

“There’s been an adjustment of $80,000 put into salaries or contracts for, potentially human resources or communications,” said Quinlan.

With this money councillors would like to see a part time communications individual working on improving communication with residents and stakeholders. Although the details of the new job have not been specifically discussed, Quinlan feels this is a positive step in ensuring members of the community know what is happening. “Hopefully, we get someone in with a communications background.”

Salary negotiations have not yet been discussed with the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) as contracts for town staff end this year, but Quinlan said the town has set money aside for those discussions.

She does feel council wants employees to have a sense of pride, though.

“They want to improve operations. It’s almost like ‘start with yourself’,” she said. “And trying to recognize the work they (employees) do and creating a positive work environment.”

A full time position has also been approved for Dave McPhee, director of operations and property services. A part time position was approved in the 2013 budget but no one was hired and Quinlan said this new person will be able to assist McPhee. “That person can help with communications.”

Keeping in line with improved communications, Quinlan is working on a “virtual city hall” where residents will be able to log in to the town website and manage their bills.

Aging infrastructure

The town is faced with several large capital projects that need to be addressed in the near future: the North Bridge has few years left, the RCMP building needs to be replaced, taxpayers have spoken of a desire to see a new multiplex and Town Hall has reached the end of its life. “Our infrastructure is definitely old in terms of buildings.”

Town Hall has recently experienced flooding in its basement and technology room.

“We’re encountering massive issues in terms of water,” she said.

Also there has been a desire from the Ponoka Jubilee Library to move its location, explained Quinlan. Dealing with these issues requires a strategy so administration and taxpayers can manage these buildings when finished.

“We need to actively start planning for this,” she said.

Capital projects for 2014

There are $7 million in capital projects planned for the year:

• Improved lagoon aeration

• A water meter replacement program at $875,000

• Cemetery expansion

• Building development projects at $1 million to plan for new buildings such as the RCMP detachment and civic centre

Quinlan feels the water meter replacement, which is an automated meter program, will benefit the town. Getting water use will be more accurate and help planners find areas where there may be a water leak. “We can read the town in under two hours.”

Money going to recreation

More than $171,000 is going into parks and recreation with $50,000 for improving playgrounds in town and $15,000 to the soccer pitch. The rest will be used for some equipment replacement programs and the ice plant diverter system at a cost of $28,000.

With that, the town has also started to invest some money into revitalizing the downtown core.

“We’re looking at doing a downtown lighting program,” said Quinlan.

A total of $20,000 has been set aside to improve the downtown area.

Improving the lagoons

In 2014, $500,000 of the $2 million utilities’ budget is going into improving the town’s lagoon aeration system.

“To improve the quality of the water when it’s released into the water,” said Quinlan.

Help for seniors

Quinlan provided an option for seniors who need help paying for their property taxes. The Alberta government provides assistance to seniors who own their home with a Seniors Tax Deferral Program. If eligible, those seniors can defer all or part of their annual residential property taxes through a low interest home equity loan. More information can be found at: www.health.alberta.ca/seniors/property-tax-deferral.html

“It’s an option for somebody that feels they need a little help,” explained Quinlan.

Showing the numbers

The biggest expenses for the town are in six areas:

• Water and waste water: $4.9 million

• Electrical: $3.5 million

• General administration: $3.2 million

• Property services: $2.6 million

• Recreation: $2.3 million

• Protective services: $2 million

The largest revenues for the town:

• Goods and services: $8.2 million

• Municipal taxes: $5.4 million

• Government transfers: $4.2 million

The entire budget will be made available online on the www.ponoka.ca website and the school and Rimoka requisitions will not be available until the final budget is passed in April.