This pie chart shows the percentages of the Town of Ponoka’s capital expenditures.

This pie chart shows the percentages of the Town of Ponoka’s capital expenditures.

Ponoka town council holds off on proposed 5.4% tax increase

Ponoka town council held off on a proposed 5.4 per cent tax increase pending the final audit of the town’s finances.

Town council held off on a proposed 5.4 per cent tax increase pending the final audit of the town’s finances.

With the overall property assessments available to the town, the final dollars for operating and capital expenses were presented to council for approval April 11 during its regular meeting.

The town’s capital ($6.5 million) and operating ($16.8 million) budgets were approved but the tax bylaw needed to stick with these numbers only passed first reading. Council wants to see the town’s final audited numbers before passing the bylaw.

Coun. Teri Underhill asked what else could be done. “To hear that it is going to be 5.4 per cent is disappointing.”

During two days of budget deliberations last year council worked with administration to find efficiencies in spending to keep the taxes relatively low. A proposed 4 per cent increase made it to the interim budget.

For Sandra Lund, director of corporate services, there is concern from administration on the lean budget as it stands.

“If we have a bump in the road then we are concerned about it,” said Lund.

Coun. Loanna Gulka suggested there should be enough money for administration to function, adding that councillors also have to pay the increase when passed. “If we don’t maintain what we have or make changes where necessary it’s going to get worse.”

As for the recently approved learning centre deal with Landrex, those numbers would come out of the 2018 budget.

Underhill suggested that last year council approved the tax bylaw and then when the final audit did arrive, it was found there was some additional money, which was put into reserves. But Lund offered that the bylaw and budget go together.

“The passing of the budget works with the tax bylaw,” said Lund. “They’re linked.”

She added that administration will have to work fast once the tax bylaw is approved at the April 25 meeting otherwise tax notices won’t come on time to residents.

Council approved the operating and capital budgets but only approved first reading of the bylaw in the hopes the audit would be ready for the April 25 meeting. If not, a special meeting can be called sooner if the numbers are available.

Councillors Carla Prediger and Tim Falkiner were not in attendance and Coun. Marc Yaworski excused himself from the meeting shortly after the budget decisions were made.

Budget considerations

There were some additions in operating costs that came to administration after council approved the 2017 interim budget.

The big changes came from the RCMP with an increase of $42,000. Of that, $12,000 comes from the janitorial contract, which requires special health and safety standards that were not included in the original contract, mainly in relation to cleaning the cells, said Lund.

The rest is for a payment required for radios for the Alberta First Responder Radio Communications System (AFRRCS). Lund says municipalities across the province are on the hook for these radios.

Mayor Rick Bonnett took some issue with the payment. “Shouldn’t they have given us notice?”

Lund replied that no notice was given, however, speaking on behalf of municipalities is Alberta Urban Municipalities Association, which has a letter to send to the RCMP to point out the issue.

Other changes to the $23.3 million budget include increases of $12,000 to repair the old gravel truck, plus another $3,000 to pay for the former Community Peace Officer truck the town took over from Rimbey.

Lund added that overall assessment increased by $9.9 million from last year. Of that, $7.7 million is new assessment and market increase while the rest is due to inflation.

Carry forward projects

There are a total of $3.8 million in the town’s capital carry forward projects with $1.3 million for building development, plus there is $341,500 set aside for phase 1 airport expansion and electrical upgrades to the airport. Also set as a carry forward is $238,600 for the Hudson Green Nature and Activity Centre.

There is also $290,000 as a carry forward for a line feed to the town’s annexed land on Highway 2 and another $197,000 for the aquaplex roof repair.