Council compensates for loss of tax exemption
A balanced budget was promised for Elk Point, and that’s the goal town council sought in their annual budget meetings this November. The interim 2019 budget, passed at the December 10 council meeting, suggests a surplus of about $13,000 subject to assessments and requisitions from the province. This amount provides enough for an honorarium increase of $150 per month for each member of council to compensate for the removal of a tax exemption usually provided to governing boards by the federal government. Councillor Tim Smereka wondered if the timing is right for any kind of increase in remuneration for council, but Councillor Dwayne Yaremkevich explained, “We’re not giving ourselves a raise; we’re recouping what we’re losing.” Councillor Terri Hampson added, “It’s not even recouping 100%.” Smereka and Mayor Lorne Young voted in opposition to the motion.
Yaremkevich moved to furnish a 1.25% COLA increase to Town staff effective January 1, 2019. The total cost associated with this level of increase would be about $10,900. However, his motion was defeated in a recorded vote, with Yaremkevich and Young voting in favour and Deputy Mayor Debra McQuinn, Smereka, and Hampson opposed.
An overall cost of living allowance (COLA) has not been calculated into the budget, and is expected to be at about 1.3% which is the rate for 2018.
Elk Point’s economic strain is a result of a number of factors: a small industrial base, decreasing commercial assessments, dependence on one industry, an aging population with limited income and a reliance on services, and minimal reserves for long term expenses.
Other sources of income for the town are also decreasing, with direct effects on the budget and the community.
The value of a provincial Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) grant that has fed the coffers since 2007 has diminished substantially in recent years. In Young’s first year on council the grant totalled about $90,000. Last year, Elk Point received approximately $55,000. Now, MSI infusion to the town has dropped to $27,000. In the past, some of the grant was offered to non-profit organizations to help with their costs. But Young said, “We’ve made a decision that none of this MSI money will be going out to non-profits, simply because we need it to balance our budget and pay for our expenses.” One operating priority is to finish changing out the water meters. Continued Young, “It’s part of a bigger plan, and we are charging residents right now at $7 per month. We want to get those (water meters) changed out as soon as possible.” He recognizes that not distributing some MSI funds to non-profits is “truly unfortunate because we have really good groups in town who do really good work. Council recognizes the great work of volunteers. We don’t have control over this money.”
Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Ken Gwozdz, asserted that this is a “strong capital budget for the town of Elk Point.” He acknowledged that, just as for other small municipalities, “it is possible primarily through grants.” Grants generate about $2.2 million of the total $5 million required, and are supplied by the County of St. Paul, which is committed to the concrete pad and boiler at the bulk water station; the Province of Alberta, which supports costs for such necessities as municipal water and wastewater; and the Government of Canada, which currently offers the Green Infrastructure initiative to “protect communities and support Canada’s ongoing transition to a clean growth economy.” (Infrastructure Canada website). Nikiforuk Construction has permitted Elk Point to pay over time for replacement of waterlines on Circle Drive in 2017 and Ravine Drive/52 Ave in 2019, which has been a boon to the town.
What the town really needs, said Gwozdz, is economic growth. With low costs for construction and for existing structures, and with an available labour force, the time to build is right now. A Federal Infrastructure Grant (FIG) may allow for hiring a consultant to update the infrastructure report from 2008. This report would identify infrastructure such as water lines, sewage capacity, and “everything underground,” to determine future needs and future growth. Growth will absorb increases in costs and invigorate the community.
Young reminded council that the budget is a fluid document and is subject to change.