By Kevin J. Sabo
For the Independent
The County of Stettler administration presented their 2021-2024 budget to both council and the public during a special meeting held on Feb. 2nd
Beginning last spring, the process to build the budget took nearly a year and involved council, administration, and community involvement along the way.
The budget document released shows that the County is aiming for a zero per cent increase to ratepayer taxes, and accounts for increased costs, such as policing.
In total, the budget released accounts for $150,000 in increased spending, which administration is planning to raise via increased assessment values.
In order to maintain services, Public Works will be seeing a 16 per cent increase.
Focus will be on road maintenance, and bridge replacement.
Additionally, the presented budget allows for two graders to be replaced in 2021, as well as the replacement of two roadside mowers.
Fire department funding will see a nine per cent increase, with plans to switch the fire department to the Alberta First Responder Radio Communication System, as well as capital planning for a training tower at station one in Stettler and equipment replacement.
Once the fire department radios are switched over, it is expected to save the County money as the Province will assume responsibility for the maintenance of the radio system.
County of Stettler Protective Services will be seeing a budget increase as well.
The funding under this section of the proposed budget accounts for the increased policing costs, such as the policing requisition brought in by the Government of Alberta, as well as the introduction of e-ticket machines in the County of Stettler protective services vehicles.
The new machines are a requirement of the Province and will immediately input any tickets into the main Government of Alberta court database immediately, instead of the members providing a hand-written ticket, then entering the information manually back at the office.
Unfortunately, the County has also had to make some cuts in the upcoming budget.
County administration has cut from $4.6 million in 2020 to just over $2 million in 2021, around where it will stay until 2024.
One thing to note with the administration budget line item is that it is the line where bad debts to the County are noted, and part of the reason for the budget decrease comes from a forecast of few bad debts.
Other cuts will impact funding to the Battle River Research Group and the Seed Cleaning Plant, which will be losing a combined $6,500 in funding.
Due to changes in grant funding, the Stettler Library, which sees a significant portion of funding from the County, will be seeing a significant decrease.
The provincial grant, of which the Stettler Library receives a share of, is being cut by 25 per cent in 2021, and the funding will be cut to the library accordingly.
“We’ve tried to tighten up everywhere we can,” said County of Stettler Director of Corporate Services Christa Cornelssen during the presentation.
During the presentation, there was opportunity for members of the public to call in and ask questions about the budget, though no one called in.
With the budget presented to council, they will deliberate on its impact to the County and its residents, and potentially pass it as an interim budget during their Feb. 10th meeting. The budget will be finalized once assessment numbers are in in March or April, and once the Government of Alberta tables its budget, letting the municipalities know what they can expect for funding.
Administration will bring the budget back in May to discuss the final revised tax rate.