Shallow gas producers in Ponoka County have been refunded their taxes to the tune of $476,000 for 2019, with the county bracing for another bigger hit next year. File photo

Long-term outlook for Ponoka County finances still up in the air

Big hit taken via refunds for shallow gas producers

With the province looking to trim expenses and potentially download some of those to municipalities, the budget update for Ponoka County painted a picture that shows everyone is hurting.

At the Oct. 22 meeting, CAO Charlie Cutforth presented the latest budget figures to council.

The county has taken in about $25.9 million in taxes, which is down $300,000 from what was outlined in the budget.

Cutforth stated the lower number comes primarily from the province’s 35 per cent rollback on taxes for shallow gas producers, to the tune of $476,000 in refunds for 2019.

“Although, the county is still in reasonable shape as the school requisition expense will be lowered by that same amount by the end of this year,” he said.

“Our revenue side is still very strong.”

Another fact that demonstrates that residents are facing tough economic times is that penalties for not paying taxes has reached over $436,000.

“The budget was $200,000 like a normal year, but this is substantially higher,” added Cutforth.

On the positive side of the revenue, not catching some accrued investment interest earnings has seen the county get an unexpected $133,000 more than the $200,000 it had budgeted.

Yet another surprise, especially given the energy climate, was the $252,000 in revenue received from drilling permits, even though the county has budgeted $300,000 for 2019.

Meanwhile, the sale of an extra grader has helped increase that revenue line to almost $1.45 million and water access permits have taken in $274,000 — an additional $208,000 over budget.

The county has also netted about $185,000 from the Alberta Recycling Management Agency through its deal with National Tire Recycling, another $26,000 for custom road calcium work and is set to receive about $1.1 million in a gas tax rebate — nearly double what was anticipated.

As for the other side of the ledger, Ponoka County is on track to meet budget targets on most line items and even save a few dollars on some others.

Donations to the community sit at about $1.18 million on a budget of close to $1.49 million, while public works parts and repairs as well as contract brushing are lower than expected. The respective items were budgeted at $240,000 and $200,000, but are presently sitting at $107,000 and $91,000.

Road oiling is also down substantially at about $1.15 million compared to the budgeted figure of $1.6 million, while local road construction will be considerably lower than its $3.2 million budget as it currently sits at about $1.5 million.

That’s not to say the county hasn’t taken a few hits on expenditures.

A new mapping plotter lifted the administration general services budget past its $35,000 limit by $16,000.

Legal fees and settlements has ballooned past the $75,000 budget, presently at around $82,000.

Cutforth explained that the action pending from the Ponoka Right to Farm group combined with the legal work done on the McKelvie gravel pit land use application has eaten up nearly all of that money.

“If you add in the most recent $75,000 payment, that puts us over $150,000 and I expect that to reach $200,000 by the end of the year,” he noted.

Lastly, contract assessment services jumped to $109,000 from the budgeted $40,000 following a decision by the provincial government to conduct the linear as well as the maintenance and equipment assessments for energy operations. However, despite the county thinking they might see some savings, the province nearly tripled the amount it charges counties for the linear assessment to make up the difference in their own contracting costs.

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