Lehthbridge County council met on Thursday, approving both the 2021-2023 operating and 2021-2025 capital budgets.
Expense totals for the operating budget for the county come in at $28,050,645 for 2021, while the capital budget amounts to $9,215,000. For next year, total tax support comes in at just under one per cent, and 0.109 after assessment and growth.
“This has certainly been a challenging budget to put together,” chief administrative officer Ann Mitchell said in the county’s news release on Thursday. “We saw a large reduction in grant funding for 2021, and paired with significant costs downloaded to us by the province, we had some tough decisions to make.
“Administration worked diligently to find as many efficiencies as possible while still maintaining a high level of service for our citizens and businesses.”
The province requires Lethbridge County to pay for recreation funding to municipalities within its boundaries, through the Inter-Municipal Collaboration Framework Agreements.
Between an increase of $117,540 in county policing costs to $352,106, and a reduction in the county’s share of the Agricultural Services Operational Grant, the county requires an additional 2.475 per cent in tax support.
“If we did not have these extra costs imposed on us by the province, we would have been able to achieve a tax decrease of approximately 1.5 per cent for 2021,” explained Reeve Lorne Hickey. “Looking forward, we have many operational and capital projects that will improve both quality of life for our citizens and allow our businesses to operate more efficiently.”
Also included in the budget are several major projects for 2021, including road improvements, bridge replacements, the continuation of the Malloy Drain project near Coaldale, and playground equipment replacement in Monarch.
While the Town of Coaldale resides within county boundaries, it approved its own municipal budget on Friday.
Although the full details of the budget won’t be made available until early next year, council announced several highlights this week.
“We’re pleased to see that even amid a global pandemic, we can still balance our goal of 0 per cent tax increases with no major cuts to services,” Mayor Kim Craig said in a statement on Friday.
“Early on in the pandemic, town council has made a clear commitment to contributing towards the economic recovery of our region and the approved 2021 budget reflects this commitment.”
Now that the budget is approved, 2021 will officially be the third year in a row without a hike in municipal residential taxes for Coaldale, and the second consecutive year without an increase in non-residential tax rates.
As well, fees for natural gas and electricity will remain stagnant into the new year for Coaldale residents.
“Even in difficult economic times, Coaldale has managed to attract new families and a lot of private investment, and that’s in large part because people recognize the work that has been done to make this community such an attractive place to live and to do business,” said Cameron Mills, Coaldale’s manager of economic development.
The Town of Coaldale considered the next three years of operating spending when tackling the 2021 budget, as well as capital spending to 2024. Even with investments into recreation amenities, new infrastructure and buildings, the town believes it is in a financially-heathy position.