Though it’ll be May before the Town of Stettler votes its final budget into place, the interim operating budget has been structured around a two per cent increase for 2016.
Council unanimously approved the interim operating budget at its regular Tuesday, Dec. 1 meeting. The interim budget is required under the Municipal Governance Act (MGA) and must be in place before Jan. 1, 2016, so that the town can continue to pay its employees’ wages and service its debts, council heard.
With both an operating and capital expenditures budgets to create, it takes until around May before the process completes. The town must also wait to find out from the government which grants it will receive before a final tax rate can be set for the year.
In the past several years, council has instructed staff to draft its interim budget around a three per cent increase. Last year’s actual budget came in at a 4.39 per cent increase once the process was complete.
This year, staff worked out a draft with a two per cent increase given the gravity of the economic situation, knowing a smaller tax bill would be appreciated by the town’s residents. At this juncture, though, it’s impossible to know what the final tax rate will be, Steve Gerlitz, the town’s assistant CAO, said.
A few minor utility increases were approved at the meeting as well as the interim budget. Water bills will see a one-cent increase on its water per cubic metre cost, going from $2.72 to $2.73. Wastewater rates will see an increase of 50 cents, going from $21 to $21.50. There will be no increase in cost on recycling pick-up, but garbage pick-up will increase from $21 to $22.50, an increase of $1.50 a month.
“Garbage is no longer cheap,” CAO Greg Switenky said. Costs from pick-up to inclusion in Stettler Waste Management Authority (SWMA).
With 2015 in its final days, a list of “bad debts” were presented to council for approval for write-off. The debts, if written off, would go to a collection agency to be collected. Any debt in excess of $300 requires council approval, and the sum of those debts came to $10,731.24, according to staff. An additional 14 accounts with debts under $300, totalling $1,706.22, were written off.
The vast amount of the bad debts come from utilities left unpaid, for a total of $9,395.80, it was revealed. One unpaid camping bill from the Lions Campground and one fire call were also left unpaid to make up the remainder, it was heard. In the bad debts making up the less-than $300 category, the vast majority of the unpaid debts were again in utilities.
Though the numbers seem large, the bad debts actually only represent 0.31 per cent of the town’s revenues, which last year were roughly $3.5 million.