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Innisfail proposes 2.8 per cent tax increase

Two thirds of new tax funds earmarked as savings for planned $28.2 million Innisfail aquatic centre
Innisfail town council is planning to move ahead into 2024 with a municipal budget with a 2.8 per cent tax increase, which would be less than the four per cent hike approved for 2023. Johnnie Bachusky/MVP Staff

INNISFAIL – Following two days of budget deliberations, Innisfail town council is moving forward with a proposed 2.8 per cent tax increase for property owners in 2024.

The proposed 2.8 per cent tax increase would generate about $265,184 for the town but council has decided to move about two thirds of that total - an estimated $189,416 - into the Facilities Reserve for the planned new $28.2 million aquatic centre.

Last week on Nov. 21 and 22, town council engaged administration for its annual municipal budget deliberations.

The proposed financial plan for the coming fiscal year, which includes a $27.88 million operating budget and a $5.543 million capital budget, will be reviewed by council on Dec. 4 at its Agenda & Priorities meeting, and then presented to council for approval at its regular meeting on Dec. 11.

Last year, town council approved a budget for 2023 that called for a four per cent tax increase, the highest in eight years, and one mayor Jean Barclay termed “difficult".

She told the Albertan on Nov. 23 that the proposed municipal budget for 2024 is no different, despite the planned lower tax increase.

“There is no difference. It's still a very difficult budget,” said Barclay, adding administration presented a proposed 4.11 per cent tax increase last week at the start of this year’s budget deliberations. There's an estimated $310,000 coming from assessment growth but that still left us needing another $374,000 for the budget."

“When we looked at 4.11 (per cent) we felt we needed to try to reduce it,” said Barclay, noting the budget process is being made more challenging from the uncertainty around provincial infrastructure funding. “We need to be very cognizant of the community and some struggles people are having right now with high inflationary costs, and so we worked hard at trying to cut some things out.”

Those cuts included scaling back some downtown work from $15,000 to $10,000 and delaying the hiring of a full-time economic development officer until the second quarter of 2024; a savings of $35,000 from the 2024 budget.

Barclay said a total of $110,000 of proposed expenditures was cut from administration’s first plan, creating the opportunity to reduce the initial 4.11 per cent tax increase figure to 2.8 per cent.

Todd Becker, the Town of Innisfail’s chief administrative officer, said there are no plans to cutback on current staff levels, which now numbers 65 full-time, 23 part-time and 26 firefighters.

“Operational projects will be delayed due to achieving that budget,” said Becker to the Albertan during a post-budget deliberation briefing for the media on Nov. 23.

Following the necessary cuts for the budget process, council gave its approval for expenditures to projects they deemed essential for 2024.

“I think everything in the budget is necessary. It's all core infrastructure and equipment, and that needs to be done,” said Barclay.

Council agreed to green light the following list of capital expenditures for 2024:

• $2.5 million for an eastside sanitary force main, and several surface improvements; to be paid through either reserves or provincial and federal infrastructure grant monies.

• Partnership housing development of four residences in the Napoleon Estates subdivision with planned budget of $1.5 million.

• Town vehicle fleet replacement at $445,000.

• Increase to RCMP contract at $252,258.

• Development of Highway 54 and 42nd Street pedestrian crossing at $175,000.

• Innisfail Twin Arena lobby flooring and bathroom partitions at $175,000.

• SW residential development design work at $150,000.

• Innisfail Twin Arena sound system at $125,000.

• Town of Innisfail office windows at $50,000.

The budget also calls for the introduction of the planned $4 million municipal solar farm.

The project, which still needs approval from the Alberta Utilities Commission, has a projected annual revenue of $608,000.

It’s anticipated the town will finance the project, which is also subject to the current seven-month provincial moratorium on renewable energy projects, with a 10-year debenture that has an annual payment of $520,000.

It’s anticipated the new solar farm will be operational in late 2024, and that debenture payments will be made through the revenues.

Council has also agreed to increase utility costs for water and wastewater in 2024.

It was agreed the cost of water should go up 15 cents per cubic meter, from $2.76 to $3.01.

As for wastewater, the plan is to increase the cost per meter to $4 from $3.80 to help offset expenses for water department renovations, repairs and mechanical replacements.

Barclay noted the town is still subsidizing the department by transferring $23,000 from reserves.

As well, council wants the flat rate for wastewater to increase to $12 from $10.

Johnnie Bachusky

About the Author: Johnnie Bachusky

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