Few surprises in next Red Deer County budget

Red Deer County ratepayers are not expected to get any nasty shocks when they open their property tax bills next year.

Red Deer County ratepayers are not expected to get any nasty shocks when they open their property tax bills next year.

A draft budget presented to council on Tuesday holds few surprises and no major spending boosts.

Mayor Jim Wood called the budget “responsible” and the county’s approach to spending “prudent.”

The total budget is $61.6 million, up from $55.8 million last year. The operating budget is estimated at $35.6 million.

The capital budget is $26 million, including about $3.1 million in uncompleted projects were carried over into the 2011 budget, a reflection of the wet summer, which played havoc with construction. Last year’s capital budget was $22 million.

This year, the county benefited from a five-per-cent increase bringing the total amount of tax revenue to $36.3 million. The boost was driven by growth and rising assessments.

“We’re not looking at an increase from the general public as far as taxes go,” said Wood. “We’re looking at basically the same budget as we had last year converted into new costs for this year.”

Council still has an opportunity to make a few tweaks before a final budget is approved next spring. Wood is not anticipating any major changes.

Councillor David Hoar also expressed his satisfaction with the numbers. “When I look at this budget as a whole I’m very happy with it.”

Among the expenditures included in the budget is $5.5 million for bridge maintenance. Wood said the county is well aware that its hundreds of bridges are aging and will eventually need to be repaired or replaced. In anticipation of those costs, the municipality is setting aside $1.5 million a year in a reserve fund for bridge and drainage work. The fund is expected to sit at $3 million by the end of next year.

“What we’re trying to do is take a proactive approach, recognizing that these bridges will need to be upgraded and maintained over a period of time,” he said.

Heather Gray, the county’s director of corporate services, said the county’s total reserves sit at $28.3 million, roughly enough to cover a year’s worth of operating expenses, considered a favourable level.

“It does look like we’re in a pretty healthy position going into 2011.” The county plans to borrow $426,000 from its reserves to balance the budget.

Council will vote on the budget at its Dec. 14 meeting.

Some of the capital projects planned are:

• $11.7 million for ongoing road work

• $5.5 million for bridge maintenance

• $2.8 million for various water and sewer utility projects

• $2.2 million for a road base strengthening and chip seal work

• $757,000 for trail construction from Springrbrook to Penhold

• $500,000 for arena repairs in Dickson

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com