The County of Stettler, struggling with its 2020 budget, tabled the draft document at its regular council meeting May 13 while hearing a prediction that the municipality could likely lose another $2 million in revenue next year.
Councillors began their discussion of the latest version of the County of Stettler’s 2020 budget guided by director of Corporate Services Christa Cornelssen, who noted that a previous version of the budget contained a modest 1.6 per cent tax increase.
However, that increase was changed to a net zero increase as economic factors piled up, including new provincial police costs, school requisition, shallow gas well tax changes and other things.
Cornelssen stated county staff went back to all departments and worked hard at cutting programs and capital expenditures to attain that zero per cent increase.
She said the current draft budget before councillors attains this goal, based on certain assessment predictions.
Her memo to councillors included a summary of the public consultation included in this year’s budget including a public budget presentation that was held on Dec. 7, 2019.
Cornelssen stated the Public Works department saw the most changes, including a decision not to hire any seasonal staff.
It was also stated at the meeting, staff felt that the county may face another $2 million loss in revenue in 2021, based on oil and gas companies struggling to pay their taxes.
County Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Yvette Cassidy stated the County of Stettler contacted the provincial government’s Municipal Affairs department to discuss this and whether or not the predicted loss, which Cassidy stated was based on currently active companies, should be included in the budget.
Cassidy stated the Municipal Affairs feedback was that yes, it would be good to recognize a likely decrease.
Cornelssen noted that while capital expenditures were in the cutting cross-hares, there were some things, like the purchase of new heavy equipment like graders, that couldn’t be cancelled because it was too late.
It was noted at the meeting that the County of Stettler was already coping with a $3 million shortfall in revenue from energy industry members not paying their taxes.
Coun. Nibourg asked county staff if this draft of the 2020 budget included $335,000 of additional provincial education tax that he described as “downloading.” Staff answered yes, it contained that.
Coun. Wayne Nixon asked councillors to discuss the fact he had a discussion with a ratepayer that the County of Stettler was not raising taxes.
Any tax increase was actually the result of provincial government decisions, and that this information was available in the newspaper and on the county website.
The ratepayer responded that not everybody reads the paper or a website, and felt the county should try a different method to get this information out to the public.
Coun. Les Stulburg agreed, noting some people think the county collects and keeps the education requisition, which isn’t true.
The county collects it but forwards it to Edmonton.
The idea of a note with or on a ratepayer’s tax notice was mentioned.
However, Cassidy stated she wasn’t sure ratepayers read any notes that are in with their tax bills.
Councillors decided to table a vote on the 2020 draft budget until a council meeting May 27.
Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative reporter