Red Deer County ratepayers asked for budget input

Red Deer County ratepayers have until Dec. 17 to opine on a draft budget that proposes reducing total expenditures and calls for a small increase in tax revenue.

Red Deer County ratepayers have until Dec. 17 to opine on a draft budget that proposes reducing total expenditures and calls for a small increase in tax revenue.

County council had a look at the proposed 2014 budget on Tuesday, a budget that sees operational spending rise and capital spending significantly reduced. Overall, county spending would be reduced from $65.4 million in 2013 to $63.5 million in 2014.

Director of corporate services Heather Grey called it an “achievable and fair” budget while Mayor Jim Wood said the county continues to be in a strong financial position.

While tax rates will not be set until early 2014, the draft budget suggests the county will receive $42.3 million in tax revenue, up $1.7 million from the 2013 budget figure. Wood said the county’s practice in recent years has been to keep tax increases in line with the inflation rate, which is around one per cent.

“Everything costs a little bit more each year. What we’ve tried to do as a guideline is recognize that if we don’t keep up with inflation then we have to give less service . . . We might see a small tax increase,” said Wood.

Coun. Phillip Massier said he could support a small increase in order to maintain a “very aggressive road program.” Over $18 million is budgeted for capital road work and maintenance in 2014, including $2.4 million for seven bridge repair projects, primarily in the county’s western Division 5.

“These bridges are starting to get old. At one point in time, the province would help on these bridges a lot more than they are now . . . We’re continuously lobbying the province to bring back the bridge program,” said Wood.

Other new projects are land remediation at the old Kevisville waste transfer site southwest of Spruce View that was replaced in 2009 and Gasoline Alley storm water improvements, both with $1.6 million price tags. The old landfill site is in a sensitive water location, while Wood said the Gasoline Alley improvements will ultimately be paid for by those who use them.

The county envisions creating two new staff positions for 2014 — a fire inspector and an assessor. The county intends to bring all residential assessment in-house rather than contracting the work out.

The protective services levy is to be increased by 0.1 mill to cover the replacement of fire and rescue equipment at an estimated cost of $700,000.

The overall operating budget is $41.7 million, while the capital budget is $21.8 million.

The county predicts drawing approximately $5.5 million from its reserves to cover capital costs. Doing so would leave the county with $29.5 million in its reserve fund at the end of the fiscal year.

The budget documents are available online and Wood said he encourages county residents to read them and share their thoughts with county officials. Council will make its decision on the budget at its Dec. 17 meeting.

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