Red Deer County ratepayers won’t see a tax rate increase next year in the budget unveiled on Tuesday.
As well, taxpayers can expect similar good financial news in 2017 and 2018 if the county’s financial projections hold up.
For 2016, the county will maintain all services in its $45.6 million budget without increasing tax rates. That means those whose property value did not increase won’t see a higher tax bill.
Levies for protective services, environmental initiatives and community services also remain unchanged.
Council deferred final approval of the budget until Dec. 8 to allow the public time to comment.
For the first time, the county has developed a three-year operating budget — a strategy many municipalities are adopting to provide a longer-term financial plan for ratepayers.
“It does help us to plan into the future,” said Mayor Jim Wood, who added provincial legislative changes are also driving multi-year budgeting.
“I look at this as a very, very favourable projection into the future for our residents in Red Deer County.”
Local ramifications of a slumping economy were not lost on council and administration as it crunched budget numbers.
“We’re always very, very conscious of the abilities of our residents to afford the taxes that we are levying,” said Wood. “But we also have to ensure that we levy enough taxes to provide the services that they require.
“It’s never an easy balance.”
Coun. Philip Massier was glad to see the county providing direction for the future while holding the line on taxes.
“In this time, when some people are losing their jobs, a zero tax increase would be good news to hear.”
Coun. Christine Moore said longer term financial planning “gives us security and (shows) what is to happen.”
The spending restraint did not come at the cost of cutting programs or needed projects.
At the top of the list are roads and bridges. The county will spend $6.5 million on paving next year and $4.2 million on bridge repairs. Bridge work alone, is expected to cost an average of $5 million over the next five years as the county whittles away at an $85-million bridge infrastructure deficit.
Another key initiative is the county’s $1.75-million commitment towards a $9.5-million project to extend Red Deer Airport’s runway to take larger passenger jets.
“I believe that is going to be a game changer for this particular region, and that will bring on more economic activity,” he said.
The county is projecting a $43.5 million operating budget in 2017 and $43.4 million in 2018 based on modest increases in tax assessments fueled by growth.
Those numbers and potential tax increases could be recalculated depending on changing economic circumstances.
Next year’s capital budget is set at $29.6 million, of which $20.6 million will be spent on infrastructure and roads. Another $7 million goes to water, wastewater and garbage projects.
Other spending highlights for 2016 include:
l $1.4 million contribution to Sylvan Lake’s multiplex project
l $3 million for Range Road 245 Market Road grading (6.7 km)
l $3 million to supply water from Red Deer to Petrolia Industrial Park
l $3 million for Spruce View reservoir