Ponoka County feels the sting of what the present economy is doing to a majority of its residents.
CAO Charlie Cutforth provided council with a financial update at its Nov. 26 meeting that was rather blue about the payment of property taxes this year.
As of the end of October, the county is in the red on property taxes to the tune of $3.66 million. The overall tax roll for the county is just shy of $26 million.
However, what is most concerning is the $974,000 in outstanding taxes from mostly residential and farmland properties.
“What is disturbing is almost a million in residential and farmland,” said Coun. Doug Weir.
“It’s an indication of the way things are going for people,” Cutforth added.
“In a normal year, typically our outstanding taxes is around $300,000 to $400,000.”
The remaining amount of $2.685 million is from oil and gas — both linear assessment (underground infrastructure) plus maintenance and equipment (above ground). Of that, about $660,000 will be written off at the end of 2019 due to the bankruptcy of an energy company, while another $330,000 is in limbo as another energy company has sought protection from its creditors.
To make council feel a bit better, Cutforth explained there are several counties around the province that are in far worse economic shape as viable oil and gas companies are simply holding off paying taxes.
“We haven’t had that happen,” he said, “And there is, sad to say, no recourse if they are bankrupt. If a farmer doesn’t pay his taxes, the county can eventually take the land.”
Still on the tax front, penalties and costs for unpaid taxes has hit an unprecedented $436,000 — more than double the $200,000 budgeted.
That prompted Cutforth to make a request of council, that the CAO be allowed some discretionary power to cancel some of these penalties.
“We’ve had a number of payments made after the June 30 deadline and in some cases, someone is a couple of days late or has property in both the county and town and they pay both at the same time, though the town’s deadline is later,” he said.
“We have no real interest in penalizing people that want to pay or nicking people that are having trouble.”
So, the recommendation was that council approve that the CAO have the ability to cancel penalties depending upon the specific circumstances.
“This is designed to get payments and help people out a bit,” he added. “As well, people can also set up a payment schedule as an option if they are having trouble. If the county is aware of that schedule, then the penalties don’t apply.”
Council approved the motion unanimously.
Another big hit in 2019 has been spending on legal advice of more than $135,000, nearly double the $75,000 that was budgeted.
Cutforth said the legal work needed on the VCD gravel pit development permit appeal combined with the county’s defence of the Ponoka Right to Farm’s challenge of the Northwest Area Structure Plan are the reason.
Meanwhile, the county is under its budget on a few spending areas, something that will help keep the red financial tide at bay somewhat.
About $450,000 less has been spent this year on road oiling while road construction is down by nearly $1.5 million from what was planned.
Council also approved the 2020 budget requests for Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) in both Rimbey and Ponoka, the Ponoka handi-bus and the Rimbey Library.
The FCSS requisitions are essentially the same as last year, with Rimbey at around $27,300 and about $40,400 for Ponoka, while the local bus society will get a slight increase to just over $34,400.
The Rimbey library received a hike as well, around $3,600, for a total of nearly $53,000 as the library will no longer be able to take advantage of a grant that helped pay for a summer student.