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County seeing more non-payment of taxes this year

Ponoka County is among the many Alberta counties that are taking a revenue hit as the oil and gas sector continues to struggle.

Amidst reports that landowners are not getting lease payments due to them and that even some small companies are outright abandoning sites, the county remains not as hard done by as other areas of the province.

That said however, CAO Charlie Cutforth explained there has definitely been an affect as the amount of tax outstanding has increased in 2019, reaching a level not seen before.

“Our accounts receiveable are about $4.8 million, but typically prior to the last three years, a normal year would see that figure around $250,000 to $300,000,” he said.

“Of that current number, about $3 million is in oil and gas with the rest primarily residential and some commerical arrears. This is not a good indication of things.”

On the energy side, $1 million of that will soon be in the hands of the county following the provincial government’s effort to lessen the tax burden on companies operation shallow natural gas wells through the 35 per cent reduction passed this month.

Where the trouble for the county lays is with the companies that have gone under, according to Cutforth.

“We have aleady written off nearly half-a-million dollars when Waldron (Energy) went down,” he stated.

“Saquoia Energy managed to to get all of those assets in a judicial sale of $1, operated for two years and then went belly up.”

Cutforth noted the total taxes, and penalties, for those two years added up to more than $600,000, “and that is quite likely also going to have to be written off.”

A few years ago, the county established an $800,000 reserve, because of the troubling issues that the energy sector was experiencing, to make up any uncollectable taxes. The county also has around $25 million in reserves overall.

“Thankfully, we are in a position that we can absorb these losses, at least for a period of time, without having to significantly impact the rest of the taxpayers of the county,” Cutforth said.

Road work

Some work on county roads have been completed, but there are others that may not see work until next year.

County public works superintendent Herb Schwingel provided council an update on the department’s progress during what has been a rather wet season to date.

Construction is done on RR 35 and RR 11, both near Twp Rd 450, while upgrades to RR 254 (Baker Rd) from the Ponoka town limits to Twp Rd 435 have been underway for a little while.

However, there is five miles of work along RR 251 (two miles north of Hwy. 53) plus on Twp Rd 424 (three miles east of Sec. Hwy. 792) that won’t be done this season. Schwingel noted that both projects are on hold until Alberta Environment give the county the go ahead as there are wetland areas involved. He added getting approvals is taking up to a year in some cases.

As for bridge and culvert work, the tender is out on the repairs to the bridge on Twp Rd 441 just west of RR 15 and the culvert replacement on RR 30 south of the Bluffton School is finally done after Atco Gas moved its line.

If the weather holds, Schwingel stated a small bridge on Twp 424 just west of RR 271 will be replaced with a culvert in August.

Despite the overly wet weather, the county has provided 85 residences with dust control application of calcium as well as to the Summer Village of Parkland Beach and on a gravel haul route in the eastern side of the county.

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