County budget anticipates 3 per cent tax hike

Council had nothing but praise for its staff at its Jan. 13 meeting, who have been hard at work snipping and cutting at its budget for 2016.

Stettler County council had nothing but praise for its staff at its Wednesday, Jan. 13 meeting, who have been hard at work snipping and cutting at its budget for 2016. Staff managed to cut roughly $925,000 off the budget, bringing it into the black for the coming year.

Some of those cuts came through staff being able to find used equipment. One of those purchases, a loader, ended up netting a $100,000 savings through buying used.

After having only the most minor tax increase in 2015, as a result of the new recreation agreement with the Town of Stettler, county residents this year should be ready for a three per cent tax increase, the anticipated amount the budget was built around.

This year’s budget expenditures come in at $33,749,518, with revenues of $28,280,633, giving a net deficit of roughly $5.5 million.However, once amortization is factored in, the deficit turns into a $17,444 surplus, staff explained.

Tim Fox, the County’s CAO, said after the meeting that the government provides a guideline for tax increases and the county works hard to stay well within those guidelines. With this increase, Stettler isn’t at the top or at the bottom of tax rates for counties of similar make-up and size.

Councillors approved the budget as presented, with a minor amendment coming from a modified FCSS budget.

Council moves facility plan to next stage

Despite concerns about the costs of the new county shop and administration facilities on the part of some of the councillors, council voted to move the facility project onto the next stage.

With an aging shop that’s in need of repair and renovation and an administration complex bursting at the seams, the county purchased land last year with an eye toward building new facilities. Plans for the new shop and administration facility are nearing completion, and an outline of anticipated costs was presented.

Councillor Ernie Gendre, who returned to council looking healthy after an undisclosed health emergency prevented him from attending last month, said he had concerns about the variance allowed in the projected costs.

Representatives from Scott Builders, the company chosen by the county to create the plans, explained that until tendering was done, more definitive numbers couldn’t be provided. Tenders could not be put out without council approving the current state of affairs and moving on to the next stage.

The next stage would see the plans be complete — what remains to be complete is the very fine details, the Scott Builders representatives explained — and a request for proposal be put out to the business community to solicit tenders for the various part of the projects.

With Alberta industry taking a hit due to the slowdown of oil projects, now is the perfect time to have this project go to tender, council was told. With so many companies looking for work, tenders will be very competitive.

Scott Builders, as the contractor, would review the tenders and make recommendations to council, who would select the winning tenders. Council was also told putting out requests for proposals doesn’t mean that people will be hired. What that will do is give council exact numbers so it can decide whether or not the project will go ahead as a complete project or if the county will build the shop complex now and the rest later.

Council will also have to decide whether or not it will pay for the project completely with a loan, or part with a loan and part using reserves. Over the past decade, the county has built up $9.5 million in reserves.

Due to the importance of the project, each councillor was asked to speak before a vote was held on the matter.

Joe Gendre said he approved going to the next step, as did Ernie Gendre, though both reserved opinions on the following stages.

Les Stulberg said people were “too hung up” on today. Instead, he suggested, council needs to look ahead 50 years from now, and how much it will cost the county to dither now. James Nibourg agreed.

Greggory Jackson noted that the economic situation made it smart to work on the project now, from competitive tenders and competitive loan rates.

The only person not in favour of moving on to the next step was councillor Dave Grover, and at the end of the matter, he was the sole vote against the project moving to the next stage.

Botha asks for help

With the resignation of its CAO, the Village of Botha, currently going through a sustainability review, has had trouble attracting a new CAO to head its office. Thus, the community turned to the county, asking if it would be able to help.

After brief discussion, the county agreed to allow Shawna Benson to step up as CAO, but now that needs to be ratified by Botha’s council.