No major changes to proposed county budget

Ponoka County council discusses budget in light of new provincial budget, will pass it next month

Some slight adjustments remain to be made, though the bulk of the work has been finished with regard to Ponoka County’s 2016 budget.

County council’s budget discussion took place on Thursday, April 21, a week after the release of the provincial budget in order to find out what changes might have been necessary depending on what the province had in store for municipalities.

However, due to the length of the discussion and other commitments that day, council did not get a chance to give final approval to the $33.5 million budget. It will be on the agenda at their next meeting on Tuesday, May 10.

They did pass the mill rate factors with no changes made from 2015. It was pointed out though that there were small increases made to the school tax requisition by the province, which is where residents will see the majority of any tax increase going to.

As it turns out, there were very few items that needed to be looked over by council the biggest being an overall reduction of about $150,000 in funding coming to the county through the Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) capital and operating grants.

“Everything else pretty much remained the same in the budget. It’s not a huge hit,” said chief administrative officer Charlie Cutforth.

What that meant was council had to determine where to make up the shortfall. Cutforth explained it could all come out of the pot designated for donations to community organizations dropping that figure from $605,000 to $455,000 or not put away $135,000 into reserves then taking the other $15,000 out of donations.

And while that was supposed to be the only item left to get through before the budget could be passed, much of the discussion that followed focused on whether council should look attempting to fund some capital requests.

Councillor Doug Weir fought hard to see council pony up the cash for the proposed expansion of the Calnash Ag Event Centre, explaining that the great facility needs to stay ahead of the curve in order to continue attracting the number of events it does now especially given the project slated to compete with them that is going up in Rocky Mountain House.

“The money we would provide would be matching and even if we had to dig into our operating line of credit it would be something I would support,” Weir said.

“The town does not want to put in anything and I think we would be shirking our responsibility to have a part in this. Sure, we will get some blowback, but I think this helps promote the community.”

He added this project plus a couple others that have put forward requests for funding would not only build the community, but also create jobs and at the end of the day the county will still have among the lowest taxes in the province.

Meanwhile, Reeve Paul McLauchlin and councillor Bryce Liddle were more outspoken on the topic than both councillors Nancy Hartford and Mark Matejka in stating the county needs to be prudent and hold the line on spending in what is a tough time for many of its residents. One of those capital projects a new shop in the Mecca Glen area at a cost of about $400,000 will be going ahead.

However, all four agreed this isn’t the time to take tax dollars for other big capital projects.

“I’ve gotten the sense that we need to turn the taps off,” McLauchlin said.

“This has been a six-month time out and the economy could be like this more a year or more. I think larger capital spending should be frozen, tighten our belts on the donations and spend only for the benefit of our taxpayers.”

Liddle also stated he’s heard from residents that the spending needs to stop for now.

“The tap needs to be cut for now, that’s what I’m hearing from residents. We need to show fiscal responsibility,” he said.

Hartford added the perception of making big donations in a bad year wouldn’t sit good with her, while Matejka felt caution needs to be taken, regardless of how painful that may be.

Along with the ag event centre, other big ticket requests that likely won’t receive any funds include roof work on the Rimbey recreation centre, renovations to the Liberty Hall, expansion for the Rimbey museum and money to assist with continued planning for a revamped Ponoka recreation facility.