County reeve looks to stable 2017 operations

A somewhat tumultuous past 12 months for Ponoka County, in the end, could have been a lot worse.

Ponoka County Reeve Paul McLauchlin

Ponoka County Reeve Paul McLauchlin

A somewhat tumultuous past 12 months for Ponoka County, in the end, could have been a lot worse.

That was the sentiment from Reeve Paul McLauchlin in his 2016 year-end interview this week, calling the past year rather interesting.

“Our council has a good working relationship with each other, even though we may not always agree on things, we manage to get stuff done,” said McLauchlin.

The year saw several issues hit Ponoka County with some real financial implications the loss of around $1 million in taxes due to one company going bankrupt as well as the money needed to help set up fire protection for the east side of the county after it ended its agreement with the Town of Ponoka in April.

“2016 looked really bad to start out, but has turned out to be good,” he said.

“The million dollar loss was a big hit and having to set up our fire department was an issue. However, there are still some companies out there that are healthy and we are able to provide our citizens with the kind of fire service they deserve.”

“While a lot of talk out is about how bad things have been between us and the town, we still share a lot of interests like Rimoka and FCSS (Family and Community Support Services) that we still have a good relationship with and work well on together.”

The big thing that kept the county in a good financial position, even with the loss to the bottom line, is the fact the previous councils have maintained a streamlined operation as one of the few counties in the province with no debt and a barebones staff.

“That legacy goes back to when the county was bitten by the (Ralph) Klein cuts and the council of the day decided to never again overly rely on provincial grants or industry for their operating budget,” McLauchlin stated.

“And we continue to do just that; be prudent with our spending while not just sitting with money in reserves.”

On that front, the 2017 budget discussions are coming up and county residents will not likely see any big changes.

“We have got a lot of wiggle room, so we can probably extend any decision on changes to our taxes. You may see some coming in the future if the economy stays this way, but at the same time, I think it’s best if that money is left in the ratepayer’s pockets.”

“We don’t need a lot in our reserves. Sure, we are being squeezed, but that is if we need that rainy day funding. Though, there is no doubt we will cut back on some capital spending and will spend some with our partners if certain projects come up.”

Projects like the completion of paving Menaik Road is one that McLauchlin explained will be done this year and, if the province moves quicker redoing the Highway 2 and 53 interchange, there will be work done on local service roads.

The thing McLauchlin feels is Ponoka County’s biggest asset is the people that work there and that’s one reason why the county has some of the lowest rural municipal taxes in Alberta.

“All of our front line people from our grader operators to our administrative staff are truly all leaders with a lot of pride in their jobs. It is certainly to their credit to where Ponoka County is and will continue to be.”

There were two other aspects that will affect the county this coming year, either negatively or positively, and those are how the local economy reacts to world events and the looming civic election this October.

“You definitely can see how events like the U.S. election and happenings in Europe can affect us here. There have been some difficult times and we have had to respond and make decisions based upon those,” he said.

“And with this being an election year here, you never know what else may be decided.”