By PAUL COWLEY
Red Deer County hopes to hold the line on tax rate increases for the next three years.
A three-year draft budget that went before council on Tuesday calls for no municipal tax rate hikes through the 2017 to 2019 budgets barring significant financial changes.
The 2017 operating budget is projected at $45.6 million, $45.9 million in 2018 and $45.2 million in 2019. Capital budgets are projected at $26.4 million, $16.7 million and $20.4 million.
County corporate service director Heather Gray-Surkan called it an “achievable and fair budget,” in her presentation to council.
It manages to maintain existing service levels without resorting to tax increases. Pay for council and nearly 90 staff will be frozen for next year as a cost-saving measure.
Deputy Mayor Christine Moore said council was determined to bring in a budget that did not put additional tax burden on residents.
“We believe it was the time to do that without compromising our services,”said Moore.
“I think we’re bearing in mind the current reality. We’re very cognizant of our taxpayers’ challenges right now, residential, commercial and industrial.”
By adopting a multi-year budget, as many municipalities are doing these days, has been helpful.
“With our three-year budget plan, we know what’s coming,” she said. “I think the budget reflects the county’s strategic plan for the future.
“Our diversification is helping us with our tax base. It’s given us some assurances as we continue to develop, especially in Gasoline Alley.”
Council was warned by staff that there are some financial challenges ahead and some unknowns.
For instance, the value of all county property assessments won’t be known until next spring. If they are much lower than projected, council will have to decide whether to raise taxes or cover the shortfall out of reserves.
How much can be expected in provincial grants is also based on estimates after speaking with provincial staff.
The county is also coping with declining revenues from linear taxation, taxes on pipelines, power lines and similar infrastructure. Those revenues are expected to fall $1.2 million in 2017, $2.8 million in 2018 and $3.8 million in 2019.
The budget focuses on maintaining key infrastructure, including roads, bridges, water lines and reservoirs.
Next year, $3.3 million will be spent on bridge repairs, and the construction of two roundabouts and improvements to Laura and Waskasoo Avenues in Gasoline Alley will cost $7 million.
The budget will come back to council for approval on Dec. 6.