Red Deer County council gave its stamp of approval on Tuesday to $47.5-million operating and $39.3-million capital budgets.
“We’re definitely in very strong financial shape in Red Deer County,” said Mayor Jim Wood.
“This budget paves the way forward for Red Deer County to succeed.”
As is usual council introduced the budget two weeks ago to gave county ratepayers time to review it and pass on any feedback. As has also been usual in recent years, there was no comment from the public.
Council took that as a sign that the public supported the county’s financial direction.
“I guess what I’m proud of most is we’re debt free,” said Coun. Connie Huelsman. The county paid off the last $362,440 owing this past year.
The municipality’s debt-free status has given it more flexibility to ramp up capital spending to take advantage of the current competitive tender pricing. On some past tenders, the county has saved close to half compared with bids during hotter construction markets.
At $39.3 million, next year’s capital budget is almost double what the county typically spends on roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects.
A report from financial staff to council says “although the budget may seem ambitious, administration feels this is a strategic move to take advantage of the rebounding economy with the lower-than-normal cost savings for our major infrastructure deficit and is achievable.
“In order to balance this budget, we will be drawing from reserves and may be considering a tax increase once assessment figures are available.”
Assessment numbers, which will give the county a better handle on how much tax revenue is coming in, will be known in the spring. Any tax rate increase is expected to be minor.
Coun. Philip Massier injected a note of caution into the county’s spending plans.
“What if we don’t get super-duper pricing?” asking whether council will get another look at its project list if tenders come in higher than anticipated.
Heather Surkan, county director of corporate services, assured Massier council must still approve significant projects.
“These items are definitely coming back to council,” she said, adding an analysis on pricing will be included.
Surkan said the big focus on capital projects is in keeping with council’s strategic goals.
“We are taking advantage of competitive pricing to accomplish important capital work, and still keeping the tax burden to a minimum.”
Coun. Christine Moore said the county must prepare for future growth.
“That’s very important as the economy rebounds.”