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Sturgeon County poised for 3.14-per-cent tax hike

First increase since 2017
WEB Sturgeon County file
FILE PHOTO/St. Albert Gazette

Sturgeon County residents could be out up to four dozen doughnuts' worth of cash this tax season as county council ponders its next budget.

Sturgeon County council began debate on the 2022 budget Nov. 17.

The roughly $130-million budget, if approved as is, would cause taxes to rise 3.14 per cent next year — county’s first tax hike since 2017.

In an email, county spokesperson Lucas Warren said such an increase would add about $46 (about four dozen Tim Hortons doughnuts, The Gazette estimates) to the annual tax bill of a $400,000 residential property. The average homeowner (assuming 22.5 cubic metres of water and 20.25 cubic metres of wastewater used per month) would pay about $182.32 a month in utilities, or about $3.56 more than last year. Projected changes in the school and seniors' taxes (set by the provincial government) were unavailable.

Cops and staff

County chief financial officer Andrew Hayes explained that 1.8 per cent of the proposed tax hike is to fund the province’s new police funding model, which adds $1.5 million to the county’s policing bill. The rest is for service enhancements ($3.7 million), ongoing commitments from 2020 and 2021 ($3.3 million), and inflation and wage hikes ($1.2 million), all of which is offset by $1.5 million in increased tax assessment.

The draft budget proposes to add the equivalent of 17.6 more full-time positions to county administration, including a parks and open spaces director, a broadband project co-ordinator, and three new firefighters. Salaries, wages, and benefits accounted for 24 per cent of the budget, compared to 34 per cent in 2017.

The budget also includes $20,000 for an online tax and permit payment system, $100,000 to map unregistered ditches to reduce flooding, and $95,000 to $120,000 for the Villeneuve Landing Network (the exact amount depending on what area governments choose to chip into it).

The budget features a whopping $56.8 million in capital spending — a significant increase from the $17 million the county averaged in the past, Hayes said.

Close to 79 per cent of these capital dollars are for roads and drainage, the draft budget shows. This includes $8 million to rebuild Meadowview Drive from St. Albert to Highway 44 one year ahead of schedule, $3 million to pave Range Road 220 near Juniper Hills, and $4.7 million to pave roads near the Sturgeon Valley fire hall to improve response times.

Also in the capital plan is $1 million for the Green and Inclusive Community Buildings Program — a federal grant that covers up to 60 per cent of the cost of an energy-efficiency upgrade to a municipal building.

County chief operations officer Scott MacDougall said this figure is a placeholder for future projects the county might propose under this grant (such as solar panels atop pump stations). Any such project would not proceed without council approval and a successful grant application.

Budget documents suggest that administration hopes to build a net-zero community building in Cardiff Park with the grant.

Council debates

While Coun. Matthew McLennan wondered if the county could not simply cover its higher police costs without a tax hike, Coun. Neal Comeau said doing so would mean cuts to other county initiatives, and that policing is a cost everyone should pay.

“It’s been four years of zero if not below [zero] in certain cases,” he said of the county’s tax rates.

“Eventually, this catches up to us. I will be a proponent of a tax increase this year, as much as I don’t want to have one, but I just think it’s just a realistic option at this time.”

Many county voters might think the county doesn’t need to raise taxes because of the money it gets from the Sturgeon Refinery, said Mayor Alanna Hnatiw (the county is projected to get about $30 million next year in significant growth revenue from the refinery and other major industrial projects). But that revenue is falling over time due to depreciation, while the county’s regional obligations and other costs rise.

“Growth does take work,” she said, and the county needs to hire more staff to manage its growth.

Council’s budget deliberations will continue Nov. 30.

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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