An unexpected grant carryover along with operational savings in 2018 has provided Ponoka County a rather large budget surplus.
Council was informed of the $3.6 million surplus by the county’s auditor Tim Rowland at a presentation during budget deliberations March 15,
About $1.5 million came courtesy of additional 2017 Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) funds the province provided the county in 2018.
CAO Charlie Cutforth explained that money wasn’t something the county had anticipated, although it’s been offset in the 2019 budget by the province cutting back MSI funding.
“In the past, we had normally received annual MSI money of about $3 million. However, we had been informed late last year that we would lose more than $1 million for this year, so council decided to carry forward the additional funding in order to maintain that $3 million for 2019,” he stated.
Other areas that contributed to the savings included $700,000 that wasn’t spent on planned road construction, $200,000 via a grant that paid for the creation of collaboration agreements with neighbouring municipalities, getting $150,000 more than expected on the trade-in and sale of three graders, plus being allowed to keep $220,000 in grant money that didn’t get spend on the Menaik Road construction projects.
Council approved moving all of the $3.6 million surplus into restricted reserve accounts in order to prepare for the future, considering the two looming elections this year — provincial and federal — and the continued uncertainty with the economy.
“The county has also seen it’s outstanding taxes rise dramatically, it’s at about double what it has normally been and isn’t all just oil and gas either,” said Cutforth.
The overdue property taxes are around the $600,000 mark, where in the past that figure was less than half that number.
“That figure has been climbing the past few years and doesn’t include the more than $1 million in unpaid taxes that have been written off the last couple years with the bankruptcy of some energy companies,” he said.
“However, while taxes owed by energy companies make up some of the outstanding taxes, all of our tax receivables are up which tell me that the economy, job cuts and other things are affecting our residents.”
The overall 2019 budget amounts to just over $34 million and keeps the majority of revenue and spending projections at levels similar to 2018.
On the capital side, the budget was boosted by $780,000 as grant funding for bridge repair and replacement was approved by the province just a day earlier.
Only one budget line is dramatically different — building repairs and maintenance for the east district fire department. The line goes from approximately $9,000 to $150,000 so that pavement can be put down on areas around the fire hall.
Ag event centres see influx of cash
How much money to hand out in 2019 was the main focus of council in finalizing the budget.
This year, the county will dish out nearly $1.1 million in donations, the bulk of which will go to the region’s two agricultural organizations. However, the issue about a more fair distribution of support between the two was a bone of contention for Coun. Doug Weir.
Weir was adamant that similar levels of funding be provided to both the Rimbey Agrim and the Ponoka Agriculture Event Centre Society (PAECS), especially since council decided to spend another $480,000 to ensure the Rimbey facility’s capital project is completed on top of the $140,000 in operational support the county already provides.
Weir advocated and got the rest of council to approve handing PAECS the $400,000 the county had in reserves for the Calnash Ag Event Centre’s phase 3 project to enclose the area between the two current buildings.
In addition, council also approved it will make the payments on the organization’s operating line of credit for this year — similar to what it is doing for Rimbey.
Cutforth estimates PAECS payments will run about $100,000. Although, as a result, the county will be lowering the guarantee on the $1.8 million line of credit from the full amount to just $800,000.
“With supporting a vast number of organizations over two communities, council always struggles to balance its support,” Cutforth said.