Ponoka County CAO Charlie Cutforth talked to the audience about what the county is up against in the coming year. Photo by Jordie Dwyer

Chamber receives update from Ponoka County

CAO speaks on items of interest over the past year

The Ponoka and District Chamber of Commerce members heard what has been going on at Ponoka County along with a few thoughts from the municipality’s CAO.

Charlie Cutforth was the featured speaker at the Chamber’s monthly meeting on Feb. 18 at the Ponoka Royal Canadian Legion.

He started out by mentioning the recently approved agreement the county signed with the Town of Rimbey and the agreement in principle the county has with the Town of Ponoka regarding recreation and the Intermunicipal Collaboration Framework (ICF) deal.

That led into briefly talking about the county’s fire service, updating the audience on the department’s new capital equipment purchases which included a new tender that arrived last year. He added that, through a council resolution, all revenue from motor vehicle calls on area highway will be placed in a reserve to help with capital expenditures.

Cutforth also noted, “A portion of the Town of Ponoka’s contribution for fire services is designated for capital expenses.”

He also said there is one challenge facing the service — false alarms — something they are working on educating both the public and businesses.

From there, Cutforth turned to the subject that has been in news a lot, which municipalities falling property tax revenue from oil and gas companies.

“Our unpaid taxes from these companies at the end of 2019 was $2.9 million,” he said.

“$600,000 has been written off due to bankruptcies and council has established a $1.2 million reserve for doubtful accounts. It’s interesting to note that if we don’t pay our taxes, the county can take our property. With energy companies, there is no recourse.”

That’s in addition to the 35 per cent reduction the province approved for natural gas producers last year, which Cutforth explained slashed county revenue by $450,000.

“We also expect in future years that the province will further lower assessments on energy installations,” he said, adding he didn’t want to be alarmist.

“While the current environment is worrisome, I can say with pride that Ponoka County has never forgotten the lessons learned from the Ralph Klein era. Back then, there were no cuts, only elimination.”

He went on to say that Klein took away all provincial funding for municipalities, with Ponoka County losing $2 million a year that had been built into their budget for the previous 25 years.

“That was a huge hit,” Cutforth said.

“We also had no debt, which meant our tax rate was lower than many others, so the province hit us with a 15 per cent hike in school taxes annually for five years. The county couldn’t raise taxes during that time, despite losing millions in funding, so for seven years the county couldn’t undertake any capital projects.

“As a result, the operation was made as lean as it could, barely managing to maintain what we had. We vowed never again to rely on outside sources to fund operations and we’ve been true to that to this day.”

What that has meant is grant funding is primarily used to support community projects, while employee numbers remain about the same as in 1995 and reserves have been built up to pay for new bridges, paving roads and reclamation of its landfill.

Trade show

So far, the Chamber’s annual trade show that will be held April 17 and 18 has sold 60 per cent of its booths. This year’s theme is “Get Your Game Face On” with a number of sports, games and such for both adults and kids to participate in. As well, the market square will be back with a number of vendors already signed up.

For information or to get a booth, call the Chamber office at 403-783-3888.

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