Tough economy reflected in central Alberta municipal budgets

Municipal councils are keeping tax rate increases low to provide some economic relief

Central Alberta communities are keeping tax rate increases low in light of the province’s economic woes.

Lacombe and Blackfalds recently passed one per cent municipal tax rate increases and Innisfail’s council opted to hold the line on taxes with no increase.

“The current economic conditions in the province prescribe that Albertans will have to do more with less,” says the Town of Innisfail in a news release announcing the passing of its $21.9 million operating and $4.5 million capital budgets.

“Given the tough economic circumstances, this truly is a good-news budget,” says Mayor Jim Romane in a statement. “We’ve all heard of cutbacks and tough economic times and Innisfail is not immune to such external influences.”

Despite those challenges, the town has been able to meet its needs with “solid fiscal management” and “some savvy,” he says.

Council also accepted the recommendation to freeze its wages from the Council Remuneration Review Committee.

In Lacombe, Mayor Grant Creasey also highlighted how the fiscal climate had played into their budgeting decisions.

“Given the economic challenges facing Alberta, council has worked very hard to find solutions to maintain service levels without placing undue burden on taxpayers,” said Creasey in a statement.

“We are pleased to have kept the tax and utility rate increases below the rate of inflation.”

Many municipalities use the Consumer Price Index — about 1.4 per cent currently — as a reference point when deciding staff wage and property tax increases.

Lacombe council first considered a budget with a 1.4 per cent increase, but decided to take a look at other options, including going as low as 0.9 per cent.

Budgeting was complicated by provincial budget changes that left council scrambling to cover an unexpected policing shortfall of $131,000 and Lacombe and District Family and Community Support Services shortfall of $55,000.

The one per cent tax increase in the $44 operating budget will cost the owner of an average $380,000 house another $30.10 a year.

Blackfalds also approved a one per cent tax rate increase as part of its $28.9 million operating budget.

“Our council recognized the circumstances that many of our citizens are experiencing, and in response we chose to forego any increase to councillor remunerations for the upcoming year,” said Mayor Richard Poole.

“We are very encouraged that administration and our staff also recognized these challenging times and have demonstrated that they are committed to finding efficiencies within our town operation for the upcoming year.”

The one per cent increase amounts to another $23 per year for the owner of a typical $286,000 home in Blackfalds.



pcowley@reddeeradvocate.com

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