By Jessica Jones
For the Independent
The County of Stettler will have some tough decisions as they head into budget talks this week, following the release of the UPC government budget that has eliminated the Small Communities Fund, as well as an array of other grant initiatives.
County of Stettler Chief Administrative Officer Yvette Cassidy updated council on some of the reductions handed down by the provincial government at their regular meeting on Nov. 6th.
The Small Communities Fund and the STEP grant, which assist the County in hiring summer students and seasonal staff, have been eliminated.
It was also noted that MSI Capital Grants will also see a nine per cent reduction in 2020-21, following a 15 per cent reduction in 2021-22.
The last time the County was able to successfully apply for the Small Communities Fund, it was able to distribute potable water throughout Erskine, said County of Stettler Director of Communications Niki Thorsteinsson.
“Erskine is no longer able to get licensing for wells, and the Erskine School at the time was having a very hard time with water, at times having to send the kids home because of water issues,” she explained.
“We were able to put water lines and curb stops throughout Erskine, restoring a dependable supply of potable water to the school and offering the opportunity to all Erskine residences and businesses,” Thorsteinsson added.
The County’s future plans were to install a water system in Red Willow and Nevis through the Small Communities Fund but they have been forced to reconsider those plans.
“Since that program has been eliminated, that has removed the opportunity for us for now,” Thorsteinsson said.
While council will have to look closely at its budget, Thorsteinsson also made sure to mention that there have been economic boosts in the County of Stettler, one of which being the addition of G3 Canada, which announced it will build a new high-efficiency grain elevator in the County, on the outskirts of Erskine.
The facility will have a capacity of 42,00 tonnes and a railway loop track that can accommodate a 150-car unit train.
“This is a big boost for the area, a boost for framers as they don’t have to travel so far to get their grain to the market, it’s an additional income source for the County, and we will see some corporate taxes from the development,” she said.
On Wednesday, Nov. 20th, council will spend the day working on its strategic plan and consider future planning. They will then begin a two-day budget planning workshop on Thursday, Nov. 21st and Friday, Nov. 22nd.
“They will listen to the needs from the County as laid out to them in a draft budget, will dive in, and start deciding where the priorities are,” Thorsteinsson said.
“There is a lot to consider but we are not panicking. We will take a systematic approach to this like we always do, identify inefficiencies and trim and cut where we can easily maintain service levels.
“We are cautiously optimistic that it won’t be too impactful over the next year.”