County could raise taxes to maintain a balanced budget

“A world premiere” – Stettler’s Jazz Guys joined the Stettler Middle School’s Grade 8 band on Tuesday night

Property taxes in the County of Stettler could go up by over five per cent next year as the county faces a huge loss in revenue.

At its regular meeting Dec. 8, county council adopted the 2010 final operating budget of $33.11 million as the interim operating budget for 2011 until the final budget is adopted next spring.

“We had to cut $3 million from the budget to make it balanced,” said chief administrative officer Tim Fox.

Last year, the county lost $800,000 in revenue from linear taxes for power lines, pipelines and gas wells as a result of the economic downturn.

“We expect another $1 million shortfall next year, which is a hard hit for the county,” said Fox.

With this loss of revenue, other landowners will have to pick up the slack.

“We’re going to have to look at a tax increase of about five to six percent,” said Fox.

“We haven’t had a tax increase in five years.”

Administration and council will hammer out a budget in the next month.

“It will be a tough decision for the county to balance the budget,” said Fox, who plans to present a draft budget at the next regular meeting Jan. 13.

Bylaw to borrow

Council adopted a bylaw to authorize administration to borrow up to $3 million to meet current expenditures and obligations of the county until taxes are levied and collected after a final budget next summer.

Next year, the county is committed to complete water projects under Building Canada and the rural water strategy.

The county must finance all expenses associated with the completion of the Rural Water Strategy before any payment can be received.

“With the projected completion by March 31, 2011 our current operating borrowing bylaw needs to remain at $3 million in order to assist us with meeting this obligation,” said Fox.

Special tax levies approved

Council approved the tax levy for vacant lots for Buffalo View Estates at $210 and Buffalo Sands subdivision at $420.

This levy allows the county to charge those who own an empty lot a flat annual fee in order to recuperate some of the costs associated with offering the communal water and sewer system.

Cost of living allowance

Council approved a staff recommendation to authorize a 3.5 per cent increase to the cost of living allowance for all staff effective Jan. 1, 2011.

“Last year council froze salaries and we feel it is prudent to look at the cost of living allowance for all staff,” said Fox.

Stettler county follows the lead of neighouring municipalities, Clearview School Division, and Stettler District Ambulance with the increase.

This increase has been accounted into the 2011 draft budget.

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