By Erika Mathieu
Westwind Weekly News
Lethbridge County council has passed the 2023 interim capital and operating budgets.
Ratepayers will see a 5.125 per cent tax support increase in 2023 over 2022, which is estimated to be a 4.034 per cent increase after projected growth in the county.
Following the Nov. 29 meeting which covered tax supports, administration recommended the five per cent increase. For reference, a one per cent tax increase amounts to roughly $158k, said Manager of Finance and Administration for the County, Jennifer Place.
The Municipal Government Act (MGA) requires municipalities to pass a three-year operating budget and five-year capital budgets before the end of each year. Lethbridge County has projected $30.2 million in operating expenses and $14.1 million in capital expenses in 2023, of which $16,675,460 will come from tax support.
Following the Nov. 29, and Dec. 2 budget presentations, administration put together a “decision chart” for council which essentially identified, by department, budget impact areas and items for council’s consideration.
During the Dec. 2 budget deliberations, Place said, there was $721,000 in anticipated tax dollars to be generated as a result of growth in 2023.
“When we are looking at a budget number, it can be a substantial change when we factor that growth in,” and added these growth projections outlined in the 2022 budget, “were conservative,” explaining, there was more growth/development than anticipated last year.
“At the end of the day, we have to collect whatever that tax support budget line is. It would be nice to say that after growth number is firm, but it can fluctuate.”
The interim budget reveals the operating expenses, 68.9 per cent of the $30.2 million will be allocated to the public operations department, 13.9 per cent to community services, 3.7 per cent to IT, 2.3 per cent to infrastructure services, 6.7 per cent to finance and administration, and the remaining five per cent to council and the office of the CAO.
Upcoming operating projects for 2023 include a review of the Shaughnessy wastewater lagoon, a review of the existing Land Use Bylaw, an inflow infiltration study for Diamond City, and the implementation of a regional Director of Emergency Services (DEM).
Infrastructure services make up 57.3 per cent of the capital budget expenses for 2023. Fleet services make up 24.1 per cent, with 2.1 per cent going to agricultural services. The remaining 17.2 per cent will go to the market access network program. Notable capital projects budgeted for 2023 include the installation of a playground in Shaughnessy, 6.4 km of road overlay to be completed on South Park Lake Road, upgrades to infrastructure in Rave industrial park, two bridge replacements, and annual fleet and equipment replacements.
In a press release, County Reeve Tory Campbell said, “Council carefully reviewed the budget that was presented, had some very frank discussions, proposed a number of changes, and ultimately feel that we have approved a budget that will be the best path moving forward for Lethbridge County.” He noted Council identified “several efficiencies that minimized tax increases while continuing to provide essential municipal services to our citizens and businesses. This budget required thoughtful decisions and compromise due to higher costs largely due to inflation, as well as increases to our required policing and recreation contributions.”
These efficiencies and cost savings total $852,335 as a result of fine increases from the Community Police Officer program, adjustments to the fire service response fees, department restructuring, and increases to dust control and fleet rates.
The interim budget also notes a $285,070 increase in costs added by the province over 2022. A sharp increase of over $50,000 in recreation contributions and $235,000 in added policing costs brings these costs up to $400,000 and $704,210, respectively.
“Municipal budgeting comes with the challenge of meeting service levels while maintaining fiscal responsibility and keeping tax rates reasonable,” said CAO Ann Mitchell in a County-issued statement, noting inflation and the downloading costs from other levels of government onto municipalities have posed challenges to Lethbridge County.
During the Dec. 2 budget meeting, Reeve Tory Campbell offered some thoughts regarding the draft interim budget.
“When we talk about these different numbers and the budget increase, I think it can be quickly lost on residents on what it actually means. I just don’t want the rest of it to get lost in the shuffle,” adding, “one of the things we often talk about in council chambers is value; does what is being proposed to bring value to the County?”
Campbell touched on some of the individual and commercial services provided which he sees as bringing value to stakeholders and residents, and encouraged council and administration to “be mindful that when we are talking to the public the first thing they (often) touch is roads, but there is a heck of a lot more here and I am really proud to be a part of this. Roads are just the tip of the iceberg.”