Drawing on almost $2.6 million in reserves, Ponoka County is hoping to get some urgent capital projects completed during a time filled with uncertainty.
Council unanimously approved the almost $34.9 million budget for 2020 at a special meeting held March 20.
“This budget represents what would be presented under normal circumstances, but we are not in that position realistically,” CAO Charlie Cutforth said to council.
On the revenue side, the county expects to see nearly $25.4 million in property taxes. That figure is down $1.1 million from 2019 and includes the 35 per cent cut for shallow gas taxes (about $500,000) and lower overall assessment.
The county doesn’t expect to see any drilling permit revenue — a $200,000 hit — but anticipates making that back in its gravel levy to go with $1.5 million from selling equipment and $373,000 renting the buffing machine to National Tire. However, about $250,000 of the rental is offset by the county’s lease on the machine.
The fire department is also looking at lower revenue projections with the west district aiming for $30,000 overall and the east district looking for $320,000 — including $210,000 from the Town of Ponoka and $100,000 from highway accidents.
Lastly, the county will see about $3 million from the province through the Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) and another $561,000 through the federal government’s gas tax rebate.
There were some changes on the expense side that reflected higher costs and one huge cut that was based on cash flows.
While administrative salaries and benefits rose by just $55,000 to 1.15 million, that amount for public works dropped by $72,000 to $993,000.
Legal fees remain a concern, having spent over $260,000 in 2019 on just two files — Ponoka Right to Farm and the McKelvie gravel pit. So, council raised the budget $25,000 to $100,000 for 2020.
The county is also looking at $160,000 more in recreation spending, to $735,000, based on the new agreements that have been signed with the towns of Ponoka and Rimbey.
Coun. Doug Weir did raise a concern about needing a plan should the energy industry go down the drain.
“If they go down, we lose about $5 to $7 million in revenue,” he said.
“We really need to be aware and look at starting to build a contingency moving forward on how to generate revenue outside of energy without substantially raising taxes.”
Many of the other costs remain about the same as in 2019 with the exceptions of donations and spending on several capital pieces.
Donations were lowered by almost $1 million to just under $640,000 with the bulk of it being loan guarantees for Ponoka’s Ag Event Centre and the Rimbey Agrim and $40,000 for the Wolf Creek Youth Foundation along with some others. However, council did leave room for other community contributions depending on the availability of funds.
As far as capital spending, the county plans to increase the amount of gravel laid on roads by $100,000, double their budget to more than $2.4 million to replace the bridges on Bobtail Road and Hoadley Road as well as lowering their local road construction and paving to by almost $500,000 to $2.7 million that includes five miles of work on Wooddale Road.
“We need to spend money to maintain this economy and help our communities,” explained Reeve Paul McLauchlin.
“I think the province is going to tell counties to build and keep our small businesses going. Of all the years you save for a rainy day, today is our rainy day.”