Kneehill County council approved its interim 2024 budget by a 4 to 2 vote highlighted by a discussion where one councillor questioned cost-cutting measures while staff described the budget as very tight. 

The budget was approved at the Dec. 12 regular meeting of council.

Councillors heard a detailed presentation on the 2024 interim operating and capitals budgets from Marika von Mirbach, financial planning co-ordinator, who noted the budget appeared and was discussed at several other meetings and the version before council included input from those meetings.

The proposed budget included five recommended motions for five separate parts of the budget, and included the operating budget listed as $30,497,413 with a capital budget listed at $5,944,272.

Von Mirbach described the 2024 proposed budget’s effect on ratepayers while her report hinted at the work councillors and staff had to do to keep the budget effective but affordable. 

“The 2024 council deliberations focused on managing the budget shortfall in alignment with council’s previously adopted budget guidelines and in a manner that supports the long-term financial sustainability of the organization,” stated von Mirbach’s report.

 “The identified strategies sought to find balance between the impacts of maintaining existing service levels while ensuring effective management of county assets with the commitment to set tax rates that are both competitive and appropriate for ratepayers.

Regarding property tax, von Mirbach stated, “Final assessment numbers are received in late February, with that in mind, tax adjustments were made within the 2024 budget with consideration for the change in total taxation revenue. 

“While the individual impacts on homeowners will be dependent on their assessed values, the typical hamlet home will see an increase of $19 annually, acreages would see an annual increase of approximately $45 and farmland increases would be approximately $70 annually. 

“These increases were recommended after council and administration worked to manage expenditures in response to inflationary impacts.” 

It was mentioned several times that property tax bills still await final assessment numbers from the provincial government which are expected in Feb.

The proposed budget also included increases to water rates, 25 cents per cube plus a $1 hike in the monthly flat fee aimed at cost recovery. 

“For users with a water connection the average annual impact is estimated to be $52.50,” stated the report, with von Mirbach noting even with the increase Kneehill’s rates are still lower than some comparable municipalities.

The minimum municipal property tax rate will also increase to $150 from the previous $125. 

This is the tax rate used for certain properties with a low assessment.

On the spending side of the budget, the roughly $5 million capital budget includes $2.8 for capital equipment replacements, $2.4 million for road network projects, $620,000 for facility and park maintenance and $364,100 for one-time projects.

After the presentation Coun. Carrie Fobes asked if actuals could be provided for each department. 

Von Mirbach stated she didn’t have those reports and instead provided councillors with projections based on an aggregate of the whole operation.

Fobes responded a ratepayer contacted her to request the actuals with Fobes adding she contacted county staff Dec. 6 for that information. 

Staff responded actual reports were difficult to develop because of the time involved and a lack of staff.

As the discussion progressed it was mentioned several times that the proposed 2024 budget was “very tight,” with Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Mike Haugen stating more than once that it was tighter than he would have liked.

Haugen stated he felt councillors and staff developed a budget that met the guidelines, but if further efficiencies were to be found councillors would have to decide if Kneehill County’s service levels should be changed.

Fobes also stated a ratepayer contacted her after examining the draft budget and wanted to know how the county justified selling a truck for $4,000 because he could sell those trucks privately for more than that.

Staff responded the $4,000 figure for a surplus vehicle was an “end value” and not a list price; many factors affect equipment prices they noted.

Coun. Faye McGhee stated she also got calls from ratepayers about the proposed budget but McGhee noted she was confident the budget was fiscally responsible but still met service levels.

Councillors passed by a 4 to 2 margin all five resolutions needed to approve the budget, with Fobes and Coun. Laura Lee Machell-Cunningham voting against.

By Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Dec 19, 2023 at 14:38

This item reprinted with permission from   East Central Alberta Review   Coronation, Alberta

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