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County passes budget

Sturgeon County passed a $76 million budget yesterday that will see residents pay 2.65 per cent more in taxes next year.

Sturgeon County passed a $76 million budget yesterday that will see residents pay 2.65 per cent more in taxes next year.

Before voting unanimously to approve the budget, county councillors applauded administration for drafting capital and operating budgets reflective of the times.

They presented the budget’s main author Rick Wojtkiw, director of corporate services, with a new pair of shoes, a budget tradition. Mayor Don Rigney joked they reflected council’s fiscal philosophy.

“You might find them a little tight, but there is a reason for that.”

The capital and operating budgets for 2010 will see the tax increase coupled with nearly $18.5 million in borrowing as the county embarks on a host of projects and expands staffing.

The tax increase means a home worth $400,000 can expect to pay $1,091.60 in taxes, an increase from 2009 of $28.36.

The county’s new debt is proposed to pay for an upgrade to 195 Avenue running from Highway 28 to 66th Street, work to bring fire protection to the Sturgeon Valley and a major paving project on Sunnyside Road from Highway 37 to the Sturgeon River.

Coun. Ken McGillis said he believes the budget is restrained and will serve Sturgeon residents well.

“I believe that the tax hike that is being proposed is not onerous on our citizens and I think we are using it to keep our services up.”

Coun. Don McGeachy, who said last week he was leaning toward voting against the budget, said he came around but would still have liked to see the county dip into reserves to lower taxes.

“When other people can come in below two percent I think we should as well and I think we should take some money out of reserves.”

McGeachy said the budget this year will be fluid. Any councillor can still go back to it before tax notices go out.

Rigney echoed that sentiment and said he was worried the county hadn’t seen the worst of the recession.

“We have to be very careful because the recovery appears to be a little tenuous.”

McGillis and several other councillors were resistant to spending out of reserve accounts. He said reserves come in handy when the unforeseen arises, like the massive forest fire in the county this spring.

“Our reserves are the same as any prudent household that has money set aside for unplanned contingencies.”

Coun. Jerry Kaup said the budget was already spending reserves without replacing them and there was no need to go further.

“I don’t like depleting them without putting anything back,” he said. “I hope we are not hurting future councils by not keeping those reserves intact.”