Council learned this year’s budget assessment totalled $667,915,780 which is a decrease of about 11.4 per cent or $85,834,720 from last year’s budget assessment total at their regular council meeting on Wed. May 27.
“This represents the single largest assessment drop that we have had on record in Starland County,” stated Assistant CAO Matthew Kreke.
The declines in machinery, equipment and linear assessment that the county saw in 2015 have accelerated this year, largely owing to the reduction in assessment rates for shallow gas-related infrastructure.
Administration was ‘directed to hold the line on taxes this year’ and they believe they have achieved this goal from a municipal perspective.
As a precaution, four million has been put aside in bad debt expenses on top of the reductions they are using in the assessment which combined implies a loss of over 30 per cent of their revenue.
Last year, the bill for reduced revenue was split between a combined Non-Collection Allowance (NCA) and municipal mill rate hike while this year, the county must hold total municipal taxes the same by rolling last year’s NCA into this year’s municipal rate and cancelling out the NCA.
This measure will hopefully keep taxes the same.
“Unfortunately our efforts won’t result in overall tax bills being the same as last year as the School Requisition actually increased in total dollars,” said Kreke.
With a reduced assessment base, this means more tax for remaining taxpayers.
It represents a full one mill rate increase for non-residential and a smaller increase for farmland and residential.
Farmland is set at 13.2129 for an estimated revenue of $1,347,783.77 while residential is set at a 5.0535 tax rate.
Machinery and equipment is at 18.1988 and non-residential is at 19.1456.
All these mill rates add up to $10,474,217.59.
As for operating expenses, the budget has decreased by $2 million from 2019 to approximately $11,000,000 excluding bad debt changes.
“This actually understates the case as requisitions have actually increased this year so the total municipal reduction was even more substantial,” said Kreke.
Overall, this is a drop of almost four million or almost 33 per cent in just two years.
Administration had large challenges with this budget as well as they had already cut as much as they could in spending last year, showing a reduced level of service to do so.
“By greatly reducing seasonal staffing and not rehiring several positions, we were also able to greatly reduce costs related to equipment, supplies and contracted services.
Critical functions have all been maintained, however, there will be no new roads this year and parks and agricultural services will be provided at reduced service levels,” said Kreke.
He highlighted that the main goal of this budget is to simply preserve critical functions while preventing a massive increase in debt while also maintaining a reasonable tax burden for residents and industry.
“I think it’s a good, viable budget that’s been presented for you,” said Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Shirley Bremer.
Council carried both budgets with separate motions.
The minimal property tax bylaw was changed to have a tax rate of $75.
“I think it turned out as best as we can make it,” said Reeve Wannstrom.
Morrin Store potentially closing
Canada Post contacted CAO Bremer saying that they have word that the owner of the Morrin Store is unwell and likely closing his doors.
This may mean the demise of the Canada Post Outlet there and they are looking to see if there are any other businesses interested in operating a postal outlet in this area.
“This will mean a great loss to the Village of Morrin, losing both the store and post office, but with such short notice, it will be hard to find an alternative space,” stated CAO Bremer in her report to council.
Concerns surrounding McLaren Dam has gripped councillors for the past while, spurring further action to take place.
A letter to Drumheller-Stettler MLA Nate Horner has been sent outlining how the 63-year-old piece of infrastructure is deteriorating as the outlet pipe and termination point of the overflow pipe are noted.
The concrete structure holding the pipe in place has also become separated from the pipe and is not supporting the pipe like it is designed to normally do.
Reeve Steve Wannstrom wishes to acquire Alberta Environment’s assistance or the Dam Safety Branch to help solve this issue and even have a temporary solution made in the meantime but are unsure of repair and engineering costs.
“We feel that we were fortunate that the spring run-off did not cause catastrophic consequences earlier this year and we are hoping that we are able to get assistance from Alberta Environment to complete the necessary repairs this year to ensure the dam is stabilized and secure once again,” said Wannstrom in his letter to Horner.
Although operating since day one on the honour system, Starland County council listened to a video presentation from Keith Leong and Renee Anseeuw of Camp Reservations Canada on potentially switching to online services for camping within the county.
Currently, Starland has a few campgrounds with honour systems and/or attendants coming around every evening to collect payments.
Council, as well as staff, have been wanting to see other payment options with real-time tracking and updates on available spots.
“Camp Reservations Canada’s system provides this service with increased efficiency and revenue and happy campers,” said Leong.
Their system was described as highly used with many municipalities using their programs including Carbon’s Lions Campground for high season.
Features including allowing campers to book online and see real-time availabilities followed up by confirmation emails, reminders and updates on campground information with a click of a button.
They can also block off sites too, especially with COVID-19 restrictions and customize rates however they see fit including holiday rates, serviced/non-serviced lots and so on.
There would be upfront costs on the county’s end as lots would have to be measured, numbered and photographed.
Additionally, the presenters were adamant about having wifi at the campgrounds to access their program by staff but Morrin Bridge Campground, for example, does not have marked sites, has extremely spotty cell service and non-existent wifi available which means another upfront cost council would have to consider.
“It’s not necessary at the present time but definitely an asset,” said Leong.
Council agreed to look further into the topic, allowing administration to do some research and ask around to other municipalities on their experience with the company and how the growing pains were when implementing the new system.
“It’s certainly something to work towards,” said Reeve Steve Wannstrom.
The option to open the campgrounds this year or next year is still in question due to the coronavirus.
Council went in-camera stating it was a ‘personnel’ issue, to discuss a letter from the Village of Morrin requesting as per the Municipal Collaboration Agreement that Starland County be willing to cover the water operations of the village until such time as they can replace their previous operator who resigned with 15 days notice.
Following a 20 minute in-camera, the county motioned to enter into an agreement with the village for operations and daily checks for 45 days at the same rate Pier Enterprises was charging the village.
In-camera items are only for personnel, land or legal. In this case, the agreement was between the county and the village.