County budget requests doubled since last year

Ponoka County councillors spent much of their budget deliberations considering $1.4 million in funding requests.

Ponoka County councillors spent much of their budget deliberations considering $1.4 million in funding requests.

The preliminary budget discussion was held during a regular meeting Feb. 12 and the Rimoka Housing Foundation requisition and Rimbey Municipal Library were considered. The 2013 budget is still a draft document, explained CAO Charlie Cutforth. He is waiting on three items before the budget is final.

• The audited numbers from last year.

• Grant information from the province. “If that MSI funding is slashed, that is going to affect what we’re doing here.”

• Property tax assessment information is also needed, which will be available to councillors March 12.

Contribution requests

Council tackled the contribution requests, which is almost double the amount of 2012; Ponoka County granted $737,333 last year.

For Rimbey Central Alberta Racways (CARS), Cutforth used $300,000 as an arbitrary number because he wanted to see what the final numbers would come to. He has received a quote of $1.25 million for six inches of asphalt to pave the speedway drag strip. “I think if there is any hope that they will warranty the work then this is what they require.”

The cost seems excessive to him but Coun. George Verheire said the asphalt has to be hard in the event of a crash. “It’s got to be hard.”

Cutforth feels it is up to CARS to determine how much they are willing to pay for the paving and councillors can then determine how they want to support it. “They’ll have to come up with the difference.”

Another concern was over whether the enterprise would be private but he understands the Rimbey Kinsmen Club operates the raceway and “they have no intention of changing it.”

Councillors decided to support it with $200,000.

A request from the Klaglahachie Fine Arts Society for $80,000 for stadium-style seating in the Ponoka United Church was turned down. Reeve Gord Svenningsen advised against the donation as the group does not have a long-term lease with the church. “It’s a handshake lease.”

The Rimbey Municipal Library expansion was also called into question and Cutforth was unsure how to proceed. “They’re asking for a large chunk of change.”

Coun. Keith Beebe said the library will take over the town building as town hall is moving to another location. He does not think the county should give money to the library for a decision the Town of Rimbey made. “They’re going to sell a $280,000 building for $1,” he stated.

“Why should we pay for the town’s stupidity?” Beebe asked later.

The total cost is $500,000 and the county was asked to donate $250,000, said Cutforth.

Coun. Paul McLauchlin suggested the county and the town meet over the issue. “It sounds like it’s proceeding…I don’t have enough information and I’d like to hear from town council.”

Rimoka requisition questioned

A requisition of $300,895 from the Rimoka Housing Foundation raised questions for Cutforth. Detailed reports were provided by the Bethany Group, which manages Rimoka’s lodges. “I went through it with a fine-tooth comb.”

“Why would there be such an increase in the requisition because I understood it would go back…to previous levels,” he asked.

Part of the issue appears to be that provincial support is less than in previous years. The lodge assistance program grant decreased in 2012 to $426,000 from $562,000 in 2011. The $140,000 difference can only come from the requisition, explained Cutforth salaries and benefits also increased. He did not see any large increases to the Bethany Group either.

Coun. Verheire questioned the increase as the county saw a large requisition in 2011 and he believed it was supposed to be a one-time cost. He believed the severance to former CAO Gerry Hildebrand was supposed to be for a four-month period but the payout was more. “He got a quarter of a million (dollars). Damn near it. So I’m saying what’s going on here?”

Despite the expectation there would only be an increase for one year, Cutforth said the decrease in provincial funding affected that cost.

Coun. McLauchlin, the chairman of Rimoka, does not have financials that far back but said he would investigate. He feels it is important to discuss what is happening with the province. “It’s happening to everybody by the way.”

Other draft budget costs

The county’s administration costs including salaries are expected to cost $1.2 million, donations make up the bulk of the $1.6 million in legislative expenses and there is $14.5 million planed for public works.

The largest costs to public works is in road construction at $3.3 million, funded road construction at $2.4 million, road gravel at $1.3 million and road oiling at $1.3 million.

Until the Alberta School Foundation Fund requisition is announced, Cutforth cannot budget for it but he used last year’s $6.3 million amount as an example. That request should come to municipalities in upcoming weeks.

There are $30.2 million worth of total expenditures in this preliminary budget with $655,000 over-expended.

However approximately $508,000 is a known increase in tax revenue not accounted for and Cutforth feels there will be an increase in assessment numbers to make up the difference.

The $500,000 donation to the Rimbey Agricultural Society might not go through this year either as the province has stated there is a shortfall in oil revenues. “But it’s good to have that budget available here anyway.”

Council did not pass the draft at the meeting and Cutforth suggested they review it. “My suggestion is go have a look at it, there might be something there that twigs you and you want to change. We can change it right up to the day that we adopt it in council.”