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No tax increase in Town of Olds 2021 operating budget

Residential, commercial assessments decline, reducing revenue

OLDS - The $30.4 million 2021 Town of Olds operating budget largely maintains services with a few exceptions while keeping the tax rate the same as last year.

“A few of the highlights of the 2021 operating budget include a zero per cent tax rate increase, a wage freeze for all staff and council, an additional RCMP officer, the addition of an economic development coordinator and a newly created protective services area, also a reduction in summer staff from 17 down to 15,” said Sheena Linderman, the town’s finance director.

Spending is down by $436,859 from 2020’s budget compensating for decreased revenues largely due to an expected decrease in property values.

Even with maintaining tax rates at 2020 levels, the town will take in $540,968 less in taxes due to an expected two per cent reduction in residential property values and a five per cent reduction in non-residential values.

Council decided to dip into a rainy day fund – the tax stabilization reserve – to the tune of about $52,000 to help avoid raising taxes.

“This will leave this reserve with a balance of $232,830 should council want to explore more tax rate incentives (in) April when the tax rate bylaw is presented," said Linderman.

Council members were made aware going into budget deliberations that even if they maintained the residential and non-residential municipal tax rate at last year’s levels, tax bills would undoubtedly be higher due to an expected increase in provincial education taxes.

On an average residential property assessed at $297,475.23, Linderman estimated the tax bill would be $78 less than 2020 when school and seniors housing requisitions are factored in. For an average non-residential property assessed at $881,618.19, she estimated the tax bill would be $462 higher than 2020. One industrial property’s assessment has dramatically dropped, meaning a bigger share of the requisition for the other non-residential properties.

When the draft operating budget was presented  last month, council members expressed an interest in ensuring the budget could be balanced by not increasing taxes.

The draft had $952,608  more in spending than what officials budgeted in revenue.

Administration gave council a suggested list of budget items to debate – from replacing windows and small equipment purchases to filling entirely new staff positions -- that presented a change in value over 2020 or items that would propose a change in service level.

Council went through the list line by line, agreeing by consensus on what to leave in, rake out or reduce.

Council agreed to a wage freeze. A cost of living allowance increase of 1.34 per cent was nixed as were grid salary increases and a planned market adjustment to wages will be split over two years instead of one.

A proposed visitor information centre was removed from the budget along with summer student staff positions to man it.

Council nixed a proposed new position – manager of community relations – that would have cost $26,250 as an existing employee was expected to move into the position.

Staffing will increase in other areas though.

While it was requested that council approve the addition of two new RCMP officer positions to help bring the town in line with similar-sized communities, they chose to budget for one officer to start partway through the year.

Some of the repurposed funds that have in the past been allocated for Olds Institute will pay for a new economic and development tourism coordinator, who once hired will be a back-up for the town's strategy and technology officer who is expected to retire at the end of 2021.

Council agreed to create a protective services division combining fire services, emergency services, municipal enforcement and liason with RCMP under one department.

This added $21,000 to the budget for a new position – director of protective services – that is expected to be filled by an existing employee.

Emergency management will also see an increase, as will council’s budget.

Linderman said council’s budget was underfunded in 2020 and will see an increase of about $45,500 in 2021. Council's budget includes an increase in fees, travel and allowances for conferences while election costs are pegged at $35,700.