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Provincial budget garners local response

Reactions from the mayor of Carstairs and deputy mayor of Olds regarding the 2020 provincial budget.

CARSTAIRS-OLDS - Local municipal leaders have continued to weigh in on the new provincial budget.

The budget includes $20.6 billion for health services, $8.3 billion for education, $6.9 billion for building and infrastructure projects, $3.9 billion for community and social services, and $1.6 billion for children’s services.

Lance Colby, mayor of Carstairs, said he doesn’t expect the various cuts announced by the United Conservative Party to have a big effect on Carstairs’ budget for the year.

“It looks like the municipal sustainability initiative (MSI) funding isn’t going to change,” said Colby. “So that’s good. We had talked about them possibly reducing it by 25 per cent, which they didn’t. So that helps us continue with our programs.”

The town is continuing its street improvement.

“We’ve almost redone every street and sidewalk in Carstairs,” he said. “So we’re looking at extending that for another year. We’re still getting more developers looking at us. We feel we’ll build another 30 or 40 homes this year.”

Colby said they are still waiting to hear what the provincial school requisition will be.

“We’re trying to keep our mill rate the same,” he said. “We’re not planning on any changes at this point. The other thing we're going to do is with the new policing system where everyone pays, we’ll just make that a line item when we send out our tax forms so people know where the money is going.”

Colby said the town will be slightly affected by new police fine revenue distribution.

“We were getting revenue for that, now it’s down to about 50 per cent,” he said. “The government is taking more of that. So that changes the cost of our policing a bit. But we're not going to do any reduction of community police officers or anything like that.

“We feel that’s a necessity. As well our work with the RCMP will carry along.”

The town will have to wait and see what other changes are coming, “particularly when it comes to the policing side. Because it’s important to us to ensure we have proper protection here in our town and keep our community as safe as we can,” he said.

Town administration will have the town’s 2020 budget ready for council to vote on by the end of the month.

“We’re meeting with the auditors on Monday,” he said. “We’re still hoping we’ll hear something on the school tax. We don’t want to say we’ll put it in the same as last year and find out it’s much more."

Work on the Carstairs community golf course is going well, he said.

“We’re getting the water lines in and sewer lines in,” he said. “That’s going well. We’re hoping to have it open and running by April 1.”

Coun. Mary Anne Overwater, deputy mayor of Olds, said the recent budget cuts will impact the town.

“The MSI – monies we usually use for a lot of our road infrastructure – that’s been reduced,” said Overwater. “Overall, in 2021 we will have a reduction of $257,249. That’s about a two per cent increase in taxes. I’m not saying that’s what we’re going to do but that’s what it works out to be about.”

MSI funding for Olds in 2019 was $2,146,034. For 2020 that number will be reduced by around $137,000 to $2,009,017. For 2021, the MSI funding will be down another approximately $127,000 for a total of $1,881,557.

Overwater said that for 2020, the town actually budgeted for about $2 million.

“We actually budgeted more than what we thought we’d get so I think we’re OK with that,” she said. “Our director of finance (Sheena Linderman) figured out what she thought we were going to get. We got about $3,600 more than what we had budgeted. So we’re OK with that. Not that we’re OK with them not giving us more money.”

Overwater said the town will also see less revenue from the collecting of police fines. The province used to keep 26.6 per cent of the fine amount from traffic violations. Now it will be keeping 40 per cent, which for the Town of Olds will be a loss of approximately $17,000.

Also increasing is the school requisition tax by an increase on average of 7.3 per cent.

There are a number of factors contributing to that including equalized assessment increase and the actual assessment decrease.

“The 2020 actual residential assessment is anticipated to be down 5.5 per cent (over 2019),” she said. “With the cannabis industry becoming taxable in 2020 there is more assessment to spread the non-residential requisition across. As such, the non-residential will see a significant decrease in school taxes.”

Council and staff have worked hard on the budget to not have an increase in taxes, she said.

“With the government changing the rules on taxation on cannabis we were able to turn around and tax the cannabis facilities in the southeast industrial and that helped us a lot so we didn’t have to increase our residential and non-residential taxes. That being said, people will probably see an increase due to the school requisition,” she said.