Judy Fazekas, financial manager for Starland County gave council an in-depth look into the interim operating and capital budgets for the 2021 year at their regular meeting on Dec. 16 via video conferencing.
Two scenarios were created for council to choose upon including one scenario which maintains the 2020 tax rates into 2021, but limits the projects that could be completed.
The other scenario incorporates a tax increase of four per cent levied at $10,410,729.45, which helps to bring the tax revenue back up to 2020 levels and allows for additional dollars to help complete some of the projects which we had tabled previously.
This scenario also contains reduced oil and gas assessments and includes debt financing for two new gravel trucks and trailers in order to fully operate the re-gravel program using county forces.
Essentially for every one per cent increase to the municipal tax rate, municipal taxes levied will increase by approximately $100,000 but as a reminder, this is contingent on assessment values.
After the presentation and discussion, council chose to go with the second option, noting that ratepayers should be shown all the projects completed recently to help justify the increase.
Fazekas will prepare the final interim budget for the next council meeting in January to make things official.
Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Shirley Bremer shared in her report that all heads of each department met a couple of weeks ago to discuss various projects and expenses proposed for the 2021 budget.
They were tasked with providing a list of all projects that might possibly get done or that they hoped to accomplish, depending on the funding available.
From this information, Fazekas worked on a preliminary budget to be put forth for council’s approval to operate under in the new year until the official budget is passed in May.
CAO Bremer said, “Judy tried to include as many of these projects as possible and has a couple different scenarios for your consideration.
“We have been very frugal with our limited funding, but hopefully some of the services can be restored to 2019 levels and a few more projects will be completed.”
Estimated revenue for both scenarios are the same. This includes $200,000 from the Federal Gas Tax (FGT) fund that will be recognized in 2021 for a bridge repair completed in 2020-2021.
The county did not receive 2019 or 2020 FGT funds equalling $351,639 but do expect to receive them once they submit a large enough project to get the full amount of the grant.
Water revenues were expected to be underestimated as a rate increase was not factored into the budget and camping revenues have been increased due to the high interest in activity since the pandemic began.
The PERC credit is estimated at $225,000 for writing off Trident’s 2020 taxes.
Under the second option, they expect $14,595,133 in total revenue.
As for expenses, Fazekas tried to restore 2019 levels for some budgeted expenses.
Wages have been increased to accommodate hiring more seasonal staff and training and convention expenses have also gone up across all departments to address specific needs in the hopes of returning to normal soon.
There are no increase to salaries or wages but the health and wellness benefit has been included unlike other years.
Financial system training is required for staff in order to implement cost-saving measures such as direct deposit for accounts payable and tax collection.
Starland has financial commitments to Delia School Enhancement Society for $50,000 and to Prairie Land School Division for the new Morrin School for $100,000.
An estimated $150,000 for interest in short term debt is suspected.
Bad debt has been estimated at $2,500,000 from Trident which is equal to the 2020 bad debt expense recorded.
Fazekas noted this figure is high as Trident has since sold some assets which will allow the county to continue collecting linear taxes in 2021.
Requisitions are estimated to be similar to the 2020 rates using current assessment values.
Police costs are being absorbed by the general municipal tax levy at $61,000.
Water rate changes
In early 2019, council introduced a new bylaw that governs water utility services within the county.
Council agreed to update the bylaw to reflect current prices and help with cost recovery and water infrastructure.
Treated to the door represents the majority of users from urban and rural areas excluding Rumsey and the truckfills.
Rumsey lacks water metres which necessitates a flat rate based on average use by village residents.
The current rate for most users was at $3.56 but has now been upped to $3.97 with an increase to $4.38 in 2022.
Truckfills non-coin operated were set at the same rates.
Coin truckfills are staying the same at $1.65.
Rumsey’s flat water rate is set at $35.20 but has now increased to $42.80 for this year.
By 2022, it is estimated to cost $50.40 and then $58 in 2023.
Public participation policy
Council has accepted the public participation policy as amended.
Initial changes regarding how the county will engage with the community whether it be through town halls or online surveys suggested by the Municipal Accountability Program committee.