By George Brown
To properly administer the Town of Ponoka in 2010 town council felt it needed another $150,000 and has adopted a municipal budget that raises taxes three per cent.
Property taxes will increase about $104 on the average Ponoka home, valued at $308,000. Tax bills will vary depending on the property’s market value as determined on July 1, 2009.
The total tax bill will be determined in May when the school and Rimoka Foundation requisitions are added.
Council met behind closed doors over two days recently to consider the $21.4 million budget estimates prepared by administration
The budget was then approved with no debate at their Dec. 8 meeting.
“Council’s goal was to bring in a budget with a three-per-cent increase in taxes,” explained Mayor Larry Henkelman. “With the help of administration we held a very tight budget for this year.
“It was a very workable budget this year for council and administration.
He said keeping a tight rein on municipal spending will help Ponoka to stay competitive among central Alberta communities as a town in which to raise a family and to operate a business.
Budgeting for 2010 was made difficult because the town had less assessment value to work with. Rather than the explosive growth the community has enjoyed over the last few years, the value of assessment in Ponoka dropped by two per cent or $13.3 million, to $711,000. There was $5.5 million in new assessments but that was offset by an $18.8-million reduction in market value assessment.
Henkelman said that just because property values have slipped because of the recession doesn’t mean that the Town of Ponoka’s costs to operate a full variety of facilities and services will be less in 2010. The town is facing higher costs for labour, utilities, insurance and contractors — just like everyone else.
Capital projects planned next year are budgeted to cost $9.2 million: $3.5 million will complete projects started in 2009 and $5.7 million is earmarked for new projects. Grants totaling $1.8 million will allow the town to upgrade the aquaplex, convert the old water treatment plant into a community activities centre and upgrading 50th Street from 53rd Avenue to Highway 2A.
Grants from senior levels of government and initiatives from community groups have helped to add projects in the community but at a cost, the mayor said. “Government grants have to be matched and that puts a burden on the town.”
And then there’s the annual operating costs.
For example, Henkelman said Ponoka residents will benefit from the new outdoor artificial ice rink spearheaded by the Kinsmen Club but it will cost the Town of Ponoka between $35,000 and $50,000 to maintain. “It’s great to keep workers employed in the community but the town has to raise taxes and fund its share and then spend annually to operate them.”
The Alberta Municipal Infrastructure Program grant is expected to be reduced 15 per cent by the province— in Ponoka’s case, $306,000.
“In our budget we have allowed for a decrease in grants by the Alberta government.’
Administration felt three-per-cent increase was reasonable
Betty Quinlan, director of corporate services, said the Town of Ponoka’s department heads work together with council to help the community achieve its priorities and to keep taxes low.
“Going in to each budget we…get a feel for what is a reasonable tax rate. What’s realistic,” she said. “We don’t come in with a budget that is totally unreasonable.
“It was a tough budget. We have to keep infrastructure projects moving and position ourselves to be ready for an upturn in the economy.
“Revenue is going down. Our fees, permits and licenses are going down significantly, as well as interest revenue.
“Overall, our entire operating revenue is down $100,000 from last year.”
Quinlan went through the budget line by line to find areas where expenditures could be reduced: budget items that were traditionally under-spent were clawed back.
“We didn’t cut any services, so that’s good.”
Unionized town staff will receive a five-per cent wage increase in 2010, the final year of a three-year contract. Department heads and managers will see their salaries frozen.
The budget includes the addition of a second municipal intern whose wage is partially covered by a grant; cancellation at the school division’s request of the community resource officer; re-allocation of the safety officer from full time to 0.2 safety and 0.8 for bylaw enforcement; 0.3 of the peace officer’s salary will be allocated to increased contracts for animal control.
New capital projects in 2010 include: completion of the visitor information booth; completion of the outdoor rink; 50th Street rehabilitation, $2.5 million; relocation of the ATCO pipeline, $90,000; 36 Avenue intersection with Highway 2A and service road paving, $625,000; new Zamboni, snow blower, street sweeper, UTV for parks and trails, wheel loader, and protective services water tanker, $542,000.
Capital projects to be completed in 2010 include: lagoon upgrade, $1.2 million; trail bridge over the river, $254,363; Northwest Storm Management Project construction, $409,172; Froman Business Park phase 2, $420,000; Hudson’s Green subdivision, $300,000.
Council has set aside $200,000 for civic building development; $100,000 for multiplex fund; and $25,000 for the ag-events centre.
Council also agreed to increase monthly resident and commercial flat rates for water and sewer by five per cent. There will be no increase in the per cubic metre of water. It remains at the 2009 rate of $2.10.
The residential garbage collection rate will increase 50 cents per month to $13.26.