Some rather hefty slicing and dicing remains to be done before even the interim budget for the town can be finalized.
Ponoka’s town administration sat before council Nov. 21 and 22 discussing line by line details of the 2019 proposed budget.
Starting with preliminary numbers, talks began with council set on whittling down the estimated $21.5 million in expenditures while also looking at ways to rectify $2.3 million short in revenues without significantly raising property taxes.
Mayor Rick Bonnett explained it’s a challenge to talk specifics as nothing has been set.
“Based on our discussions and some very tough decisions that were made, we are trying to keep any increase around where the inflationary pressures are holding us. But, we are hoping to curtail our costs significantly this year,” he said.
September inflation rates released is 2.2 per cent, which Bonnett noted is likely slightly higher than what he’d be willing to accept.
“We know that everyone is in a very tough spot and it looks like, the way the economy is going, it could be that way for the foreseeable future,” Bonnett added.
“That is honestly where we based our discussions — where the economy is currently sitting. We are trying to look at the big picture.”
Administration is tasked with going back and reworking the various sections of the budget. That includes adjustments to amounts slated for reserves in the areas of electrical, water and sewer in addition to digging deeper to find efficiencies.
Bonnett believes the town’s utilities can run at a better profit and that high operational costs — such as in recreation — need to be addressed.
“We have to do something significantly different. Our cost of operating has gotten too far out of whack for what taxpayers subsidize,” he stated, “We may have to consider significant increases in user fees and do some rebating back based on how much usage.”
Council also asked that the surplus figures from 2017 and 2018 be worked into the budget, which may help lower the potential ask of residents.
The interim budget is due back in front of council on Dec. 11, when the town’s fiscal picture should be more clear.
“Administration is busy now running the numbers that we made changes to, so until it comes back at that meeting, it’s very unclear,” Bonnett explained.
“Council sent some pretty strong marching orders to find some alternative funding sources going forward to alleviate some of these pressures as quick as possible. We also made some cuts and we are also waiting to hear from the province regarding the fieldhouse.”
In fact, a motion was due to come in front of council at its meeting last night (Nov. 27) to have the town hang onto the education portion of Ponoka’s property taxes. The move is being touted by Bonnett as a pressure tactic to get the provincial government to discuss infrastructure funding following a change earlier this year by the province in how it plans to fund these projects.
“We need the investment back into our town. Our biggest thing to relieve those pressures is get investment in Ponoka and Alberta,” he stated.