County council approves “challenging budget”

Provincial government cuts affect County’s revenue sources

By Jessica Jones

For the Independent

County of Stettler council unanimously passed their 2020-2023 executive budget on Jan. 14th, but say announcements from the Province presented challenges in the final days of deliberations.

While the County of Stettler was grappling with the announcement that the Provincial Government would be quadrupling the municipality’s responsibility to fund policing, they were further saddled with additional impacts to their bottom line.

On Dec. 19th, Municipal Affairs informed the County that in 2020 the municipality would be “absorbing the impact” for a tax reduction for shallow gas well producers.

The Province was originally providing a 35 per cent tax reduction to shallow gas well producers.

The change will be, “A further loss to our expected revenue,” said Niki Thorsteinsson, County of Settler director of communications.

Thorsteinsson said that Municipal Affairs additionally informed the County that they would not be addressing the assessment year modifier review in 2020 in which the Province initially “planned and communicated” to them.

“The County was counting on the review of the assessment year modifier to assist us in covering some of these loses,” Thorsteinsson said.

“It has been a very challenging budget with very late information being handed down from the Province in December, that dramatically impacted our bottom line, when we had already completed our lengthy and in-depth budget process,” added Thorsteinsson.

The County of Stettler originally started budget planning in June 2019 with a budget survey, followed by lengthy administrative discussions, workshops, and a public presentation.

While the County is presenting a balanced budget, which concentrates on “maintaining service levels,” the budget incorporates a 1.6 per cent increase in the municipal property tax rate to account for a cost of living adjustment.

The new tax for the modified policing service, handed down from the Province, will appear on County residents’ tax bills as a remittance, just like Seniors Housing and Education.

Thorsteinsson said the cost to the County in 2020 will be $145,000.

This amount will more than triple over the next two years, with the County being responsible to collect and remit $435,277 in 2022.

“And we have no new income sources to capitalize on,” Thorsteinsson said.

According to Thorsteinsson, the County will continue to, “Investigate long-term gravel supplies and, test further County sites to establish if future gravel opportunities exist.

“We will continue to focus on plan evaluation and invest time, resources and training into updating the Stettler Regional Emergency Management Plans for the Stettler Regional Emergency Management Agency, which continues to operate out of the County of Stettler for our region,” Thorsteinsson said.

The County will also welcome the Village of Gadsby into the municipality with the transition expected to begin in the coming months.

The 1.6 per cent increase will be addressed when council sets the mill rate for 2020, likely in May, Thorsteinsson mentioned.

Tax notices are mailed to County residents by the end of June.

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