By PAUL COWLEY
Ponoka will freeze wages and cut positions to keep the proposed residential and commercial tax rate to four per cent next year.
A proposed budget going to town council on Tuesday for debate proposes the tax increase, which would boost residential tax bills by $27 per $100,000 of assessed home value. For commercial properties, the number is $36 per $100,000 of assessed value.
Ponoka’s proposed operating budget is $16.6 million and the capital budget is $6.8 million.
Town chief administrative officer Albert Flootman says council and administration “grappled with some hard choices in this budget.”
To balance the books, council and non-union wages will be frozen and cost-of -living- or merit-based increases eliminated.
At the end of this year, the community’s peace officer will be laid off and the town will rely on RCMP for traffic enforcement will reorganizing bylaw enforcement. A town safety officer position will also be eliminated and those duties taken over by a health and safety committee.
“We were successful in identifying cuts that won’t impact service levels,” says Mayor Rick Bonnett. “It’s an extremely lean budget that reflects the recession we’re in.”
Bonnett says Ponoka has lowest property taxes for a community of its size in Central Alberta.
“Our taxes are lower than average and can no longer support the service levels that our residents expect, especially now with the drop in utility revenues.”
Budgeting was made trickier because council has approved some new service level boosts in recent years, including a plan to improve snow removal and do more infrastructure maintenance. Additional staff have also been needed to tackle plans and policies to drive more development and business growth.
In previous years, the town was able to count on utility surpluses to help cover new expenses. Those surpluses have taken a hit as a slow economy has reduced commercial power usage. Lower water use in a wet year and a deferred electrical rider rebate also reduced revenues.