South Peace News
The Town of Peace River has passed their annual budget but is still looking for ways to ease the tax burden on residents in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
After six public meetings of deliberations, council approved a $26.75 million operating budget and $7.69 million capital budget for 2020 at their regular March 23 meeting.
The budget maintains town service levels but includes a tax increase of approximately $325,000 or three per cent.
Mayor Tom Tarpey says the tax increase is due to cutbacks by the provincial government.
“The $325,000 tax revenue increase is similar to the $270,000 in reductions from the Province,” he says.
“If the provincial cuts didn’t happen, we would have been able to pass a budget with virtually no tax rate changes to town ratepayers. Unfortunately, this is another example of provincial downloading, and the Town has had to pick up the difference.”
Cuts include a $162,000 reduction in Municipal Sustainability Initiative [MSI] funding, $25,500 less in employment grants, a reduction in levies paid through the grants in lieu of taxes program totaling $61,600, and a reduction in fine revenue of approximately $21,000 because the province is retaining a greater portion of processing and other fees. The Province plans to cut those revenue sources even further in 2021.
Councillor Don Good asked at the meeting if the Town could still find a way to have a zero per cent tax increase instead of three per cent, in light of the COVIC-19 pandemic and the collapse of oil prices that have seen many local people lose work.
“I’m just wondering if there’s any mechanisms that we could use to meet goals that we have to meet but also not have an increase that hits our public and people in our town at a time when, to be very honest with you, a lot of them are really hurting.
“When we did this budget it was under vastly different circumstances,” Good adds.
Councillor Johanna Downing agrees that when council began budget deliberations, it was a completely different situation.
Greg Towne, director of corporate services and economic development, says the Town should be cognizant of the financial pressures residents have been experiencing. He says the Town has been in contact with the provincial Municipal Affairs ministry to find out what may be coming, but is still waiting to see what programs will be approved to help Albertans.
“The idea is to pass the budget, so that there is a budget,” Mayor Tarpey says.
Tarpey says the budget can be the basis of planning going forward, but tax deferrals and other ideas to address councillor’s concerns or possibly even a revised budget in June may still be possible.
“There are things in motion right now, and we’re also looking at what other people are doing,” Tarpey says.
“The taxes don’t have to be paid under the current scenario until June the 30.”
Tarpey says the Town also has to look forward to when the pandemic passes.
“We want to put people back to work,” Tarpey says, noting that initiatives like the neighbourhood renewal program and other capital projects can employ local people after isolations and shutdowns end and put local money back into the economy.
Town staff have been directed by council to look at all possibilities to ease the burden on residents, such as the use of existing reserves, finding operational savings within the budget, or accessing potential programs being considered by the provincial government such as possible tax deferrals.
“This may allow council to consider extraordinary or one-time possibilities and incorporate these options prior to the approval of the upcoming 2020 Tax Rate Bylaw,” Tarpey says.
“I’m hopeful that these options will allow us to not have to increase the tax rate, but we will have to wait until the tax rate bylaw is approved in April.”
The newly-approved budget includes operating funds for the Baytex Energy Centre, two seasonal labourer positions to help in public works, $1.4 million for a new ladder truck for the fire department, sponsorship for the Peace River and District Chamber of Commerce, and continued funding for the library.
Council will also consider a water rate increase of 68 cents per cubic meter or 12.6 per cent on existing rates, with the 2020 Utility Rate Bylaw expected before council in April 2020.
However, council may also be looking at possible help for its residents who may be struggling to pay their utilities.
Full details of the 2020 budget are available on the Town’s website.
Council also approved three different Intermunicipal Collaboration Frameworks with Northern Sunrise County, the M.D. of Peace, and the County of Northern Lights at the meeting.
Chop, chop, chop
Government of Alberta cuts and how they affect the Town of Peace River
- $162,000 reduction in Municipal Sustainability Initiative [MSI] funding.
- $25,500 less in employment grants.
- A reduction in levies paid through the grants in lieu of taxes program totaling $61,600.
- A reduction in fine revenue of approximately $21,000 because the province is retaining a greater portion of processing and other fees. The Province plans to cut those revenue sources even further in 2021.