File photo

File photo

Ponoka County’s short-term financial picture looks okay

How the rest of 2020 turns out will depend on length of COVID-19 restrictions

Ponoka County’s finances are in decent shape as of the end of March and the hope is that won’t change much in the short term.

At its meeting on April 14, council was informed the county is sitting with about $14.92 million available. That’s nearly $1 million lower than at this same time last year.

CAO Charlie Cutforth explained the reason behind that figure is only one of the three graders it annually places up for sale has been sold. Of the other two, one has been tentatively sold, but the county has yet to receive payment.

As far as this year’s budget goes, Cutforth added it’s been so far so good in the first three months with a couple of exceptions.

Investment earnings was set at $300,000 and is only at just over $85,000, something that Cutforth issued a warning to council about.

“Typically we receive the funds to invest by the end of June, but it’s looking like that won’t happen this year. So, that line item is in a bit of jeopardy right now,” he said.

Another issue is the general services administrative account that is around $8,000 over its $35,000 budget. Cutforth explained this includes computer and technology programming and maintenance, but also noted there may be some payments made this year that were from 2019 invoices.

“Everything else is in line with the budget,” said Cutforth.

Monthly update

Council was provided with its regular look at expenditures through its cheque register as of March 31, which brought up a few questions.

The first was regarding a nearly $17,000 bill from Camrose County for the response from the Bashaw Fire Department to the Kikel Meats blaze on March 7.

Coun. Mark Matejka wondered if there would be any chance to recover any of that money. Cutforth said they are looking into if the property owners have insurance that may cover that cost.

Another question arose about the more than $61,000 paid to Lehigh Hanson, the parent company of Inland Cement, for an over-payment of the gravel levy. Cutforth explained that, instead of the county levy of 25 cents per tonne, the company mistakenly paid 40 cents per tonne.

“They assumed that Ponoka County had raised its amount like other municipalities,” he said.

That triggered a brief discussion about whether council should revisit the levy, which was determined to be okay just one month ago during talks on the 2020 budget.

“If (Lehigh) were comfortable with that and had already passed it along to customers, shouldn’t we take another look?” Matejka said, to which the rest of council agreed.

Cutforth was also in agreement, stating, “With the present and future fiscal pressures the county will soon be under, the levy needs to be revisited, not just to reduce expenses, but with it being a legitimate revenue opportunity.”

While it was mentioned that gravel deliveries might go down, Reeve Paul McLauchlin commented that it may well go the opposite direction.

“There might be more going out considering the billions of infrastructure and other projects the province recently announced,” he said.

Underscoring that fact, the province has requested municipalities forward shovel-ready projects to their MLAs for consideration. Cutforth added the county has sent four projects — three bridges and one pavement project — to the two MLAs that represent the county.

Contributions to organizations during a time when budgets are tight and some groups are not operational was also brought up. Cutforth said that no amounts would be released unless the organization is active and that council has verified its approval for distribution.

Some other notable expenses included:A final payment to the county’s legal firm of almost $9,500 for work defending against the Ponoka Right to Farm challenge — making the overall total spent around $140,000.

An $8,100 payment to fix a washout at the Burnco gravel pit near Ponoka, which was determined to come from the county’s road allowance where the Town of Ponoka had conducted water line work. Cutforth explained discussions with the town regarding that cost are ongoing.

More than $12,600 spent by the fire department for new self-contained breathing apparatus masks, to ensure each individual firefighter has their own mask. This is consistent with recent COVID-19 safety protocols.

The last payment to Vicinia of $95,000, which pays out the final portion of the $210,000 provincial grant it obtained for the completion of the county’s agreements with its neighbouring municipalities.

Ponoka County