Revenues rise in Big Lakes, but they aren’t in a sharing mood

Richard Froese
South Peace News

Big Lakes County may consider more funding for annual capital grants to the Town of High Prairie and the Town of Swan Hills.
But it will not happen this year!
At its regular meeting Oct. 12, council learned they could now provide more money because Big Lakes is receiving more tax revenue from oil and gas companies than in the past few years.
At the 2022 budget deliberations last December, council budgeted $250,000 for High Prairie and $500,000 for Swan Hills.
During the past few years, Big Lakes gave less money based on a funding formula.
CAO Jordan Panasiuk suggested council return to its funding formula and provide a higher amount.
“Based on the current funding formula, Big Lakes County 2022 allocation to both High Prairie and Swan Hills is $716,255.40,” Panasiuk writes in his report to council.
“With our tax collection returning to normal in 2022, the county is in a much better financial position than it was in 2020.”
The meeting was the last at Big Lakes for Panasiuk, who submitted his letter of resignation Aug. 17 and started at CAO for the Town of Hinton on Oct. 17.
However, council decided to keep the 2022 levels as approved.
After discussing the issue in closed session, council approved a motion in open meeting that the funding budgeted in 2022 be approved and that the funding agreements be considered for negotiations for 2023 and forward.
Acting Reeve Jim Zabolotniuk declined comment.
Three of nine members of council were absent. Reeve Robert Nygaard and High Prairie East – Banana Belt Councillor Tyler Airth were absent from the meeting. Kinuso Councillor Roberta Hunt was absent from the meeting when the issue was discussed.
Zabolotniuk, South Sunset House – Gilwood Councillor Ann Stewart, Enilda – Big Meadow Councillor Lane Monteith, Heart River – Salt Prairie Councillor Garrett Zahacy, Grouard Councillor Jeff Chalifoux and Joussard Councillor Richard Mifflin were present.
Currently, the funding formula states that:
Annually, the total linear assessment amount used to calculate taxation for that year shall be compared with the 2016 linear assessment for Big Lakes and the percentage increase or decrease, as the case may be, as that percentage is derived from, each year.
The base amount of $1 million shall be adjusted, applying this derived percentage of increase or decrease, as the case may be, as that percentage is derived from, each year.
The total amount of annual contribution shall not exceed $1 million.
That capital allocation was last paid by Big Lakes to both towns in 2019 with a carryover of $50,000 for High Prairie paid in 2020, Panasiuk said.
Big Lakes relied on the following clause to cease payments:
Notwithstanding the above, funding during the term of this agreement shall terminate immediately if, in the sole opinion of Big Lakes County, there are legislative or regulation change that negatively affect the assessments of the municipal taxes collected within Big Lakes County, and the county provides written notice of that opinion to the town.
“The goal of the capital funding grant is to help our urban neighbours remain viable and sustainable,” Panasiuk said.
A large infrastructure deficit with either High Prairie or Swan Hills may not show up in county financial statements, but it is an unfunded liability that the county may be responsible.
“When looking at the financial statements of the two towns, it is our opinion that Swan Hills is in a very poor financial position with limited options to fund a growing infrastructure deficit,” Pana- siuk said.
“High Prairie is in a better financial position, but it is understood that they have comparatively old infrastructure that is and will continue to fail and require repair and replacement.
“Without a detailed infrastructure audit, we will not be able to accurately determine capital needs in High Prairie.”

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