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Red Deer County aims for zero per cent tax increase

Rural municipality approves 2021-2023 budget
MVP Jim Wood
Red Deer County mayor Jim Wood said the rural municipality has created a budget for 2021 that does not target ratepayers with any property tax increases. Photo courtesy of Red Deer County

RED DEER COUNTY – Ratepayers in Red Deer County have moved into the new year with expectations they will not be hit with higher property taxes in 2021.

Last month at Red Deer County council’s regular meeting on Dec. 15, the 2021-2023 Operating and 2021-2025 Capital budgets were approved.

The motion was passed after being tabled for two weeks, and took into account any public feedback that was submitted for council to consider.

“Council certainly recognizes the challenges - both financial and personal - brought about by COVID-19,” said Red Deer County Mayor Jim Wood. “We are not expecting any tax increases at all.

“What we are looking at right now and recognizing that it’s a tough time for everyone, the budget we have put forward has been put forward with the intention of no tax increase.

"All the work we got shown on our operating and capita budgets will not require a tax increase. We must not create undue hardship on taxpayers, but we must also ensure our infrastructure is in excellent condition.”

The county’s mill rates for 2021 will be determined once individual property assessments are calculated by the end of February. The rural municipality will also collect provincial school taxes.

The new operating budget will also see a slight increase from $54.4 million to $56.8 million, while capital spending increases to $42.4 million from last year’s $32.3 million, with a large portion going toward large-scale construction at McKenzie Road on the south end of Gasoline Alley. Specifically, the county has earmarked $8 million toward the construction of two roundabouts on McKenzie Road.

Other capital projects for 2021 include:

• $6.5 million for utility infrastructure upgrades

• $5.4 million for the ongoing bridge program

• $4 million internet utility

• $2.8 million for road construction on Lantern Street

• $1.9 million for fire tender/engine/apparatus replacements

• $1 million for county trail development

• $976,000 for capital expenses at Red Deer Regional Airport

Wood said part of Red Deer County’s ongoing fiscal success is seeing continuous growth, right through the recession and more recently, right through the challenging months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“That new growth that comes into Red Deer County is new tax dollars,” he said. “That new tax revenue that we get from new businesses and new houses being built brings new revenue into Red Deer County and makes us more efficient.”

He added another part of the county’s success is how the rural municipality looks after its infrastructure, noting there is not “millions and millions of dollars tied up in construction equipment” and that they have been able to keep costs low because they operate with a tender system and that makes the rural municipality’s operations more efficient.

He concedes the county has seen “some assessment value loss” but it has not been broad across all sectors.

“It is up and down in various sectors depending on location,” he said. “But I do know the budget we brought forward is an investment into the future budget. We are looking at trying to make sure businesses and residents in Red Deer County have the latest technology advantage.”

He said the county is particularly focused on investing into fibre optics technology to provide better internet services to residents and businesses, adding the service has become critically important to the farming community, and to young students who now have to do their learning from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are finding these types of services are what people are expecting and enticing to people who want to be in Red Deer County,” said Wood.