Wednesday , 20 January 2021
City councillors Bob Buckle, far left, Kirk Soroka, middle left, mayor Craig Copeland middle, and councillor Vicky Lefebvre social distance with councillors Chris Vining, Jurgen Grau, and Duane Lay on the phones on Tuesday.

Cold Lake passes low $8.8M capital budget, holds steady on services in 2020

City councillors Bob Buckle, far left, Kirk Soroka, middle left, mayor Craig Copeland middle, and councillor Vicky Lefebvre social distance with Chris Vining, Jurgen Grau, and Duane Lay on the phones at Tuesday’s council meeting. 

Cold Lake City Council passed a $44 million operating budget and amended a nearly $9 million capital budget for 2020 on Tuesday despite no decision on ID 349.

City council had created a budget for the first three months of the year back in December.

The budget forecasts an average municipal tax increase of 1.11 per cent.

The City said that the tax increase forecast may vary in either direction depending on the economic impacts relating to COVID-19, as they continue to consider ways to lessen the impacts to local residents and business.

In 2019, budgets were passed with about $43 million in operational spending and $23.33 million in capital projects, by comparison.

“This is very much a hold-the-line budget that seeks to get our community through some very uncertain times,” Mayor Craig Copeland said.

He talked about the impacts no ID 349 decision has on Cold Lake The Morning After on Thursday.

With $16 million from last year and this year’s sum still hanging in the balance, council factored that expected total of $16 million in this year’s budget.

“The 2019 ID 349 money was close to $30 million that didn’t even get distributed to all the various communities that are part of the funding agreement now. That money sitting in Edmonton has no value to this area. So we’ve got to get that money out,” said Copeland.

“We have some projects that need to be done. And so we’ve passed a budget, made some decisions. Oour council has always been about moving the community forward and we want to continue to do so.”

The 2020 budget contains no increases to staffing levels or to levels of service.

It continues to maintain over a million dollars in allowance for uncollectable taxes due to the ongoing dispute over Payment in Lieu of Taxes with the Federal Government for the Canadian Forces Base Cold Lake (also known as 4 Wing Cold Lake) and the Cold Lake Golf and Winter Club.

The allowance for 2020 is in the amount of $1.2 million which forms part of the Government of Canada’s outstanding invoice totaling $22.2 million.

Of the total outstanding amount, the Government of Alberta is seeking $2.9 million for its portion of the Education Tax.

Both the delays of ID 349 and the PILT payments have significant impacts on the finances of the City of Cold Lake and restrict the options available for the City of Cold Lake.

Based on the current assessment and tax structure, a one-per-cent increase in municipal taxes generates approximately $205,000 in new revenues.

By approving this budget Council has committed to an estimated 1.11 per cent average municipal tax increase in 2020.

The taxes levied, however, are proportionate to the assessment of the property.

Some municipal property taxes may increase and some may decrease at a different rate depending on the increase or decrease in the assessed value in relation to other properties in the City.

The tax rate will be set in May 2020.

A municipal tax and utility payment deferral program was passed by council for April, May, and June 2020.

Crime prevention spending

After hearing the growing calls of concern from Cold Lake residents on escalating crime, the city is spending on another police officer, upgrading lighting in the downtown core, and looking to install surveillance cameras in specific areas.

These measures came out of the rural crime town hall in February.

“We’ve really listened and we’re going to take that and fund an RCMP position, we’re funding it for a half-year because it takes at least six months to a year to get an RCMP member.

“We’re going to put a bunch of cash side to look at options for us and I say corporate committees meeting different strategies to try to use with $90,000 towards crime prevention.

“But we’re also going to take some a lot of public, who were giving us suggestions like one was the cameras putting in the cameras throughout the community in strategic locations. So we’re going to be looking at that as an option,” said Copeland.

However, during Tuesday’s council meeting he called the almost $9 million embarassing for a community this size.

“When I say the $8 million budget is embarrassing on a capital side it definitely is. I mean a community of our size 15,000 people to ratchet capital in the City of Cold Lake from $20-25 million a year and to be ratcheting down to $8 million. It’s because of the uncertainty to 349.

“Five million of that eight is all based on grant money. And the staff has done a great job of saving money over the years and we’re at eight million dollars, definitely nothing to be able to stimulate the economy in a big way. But it is what it is.”

Budget highlights

  • Continuation of most levels of service, including funding for a Family and Children’s services program.
  • $90,000 to assist with the implementation of a crime reduction strategy, including an additional RCMP member.
  • A matching grant of $62,000 for a power cot and load installation in two ambulances.
  • An approximate five per cent increase in recreation rates.
  • Closure of the north arena.

Highlights of the 2020 Capital Budget include:

  • Fleet and equipment replacement worth about $1.32 million, mainly devoted to a pumper truck
  • Environmental infrastructure projects (including waste management, water, wastewater and storm water projects) totaling $1.65 million. This will largely go to a Wastewater Treatment Plant design.
  • Roadway infrastructure totaling about $3.17 million, including work on 8th Street.
  • Facility infrastructure projects totaling about $2.05 million.
  • $440,000 in spending to upgrade information technology systems.
  • $130,000 in recreational infrastructure spending.
  • Money will also go towards a off-leash dog park

Mayor Craig Copeland

About Michael Menzies

Menzies is the editor-at-large for Connected Media Inc. Born and raised in Vermilion, he started in May 2018 during his NAIT Radio and Television practicum and reports on local politics, sports, and community issues. He became the Bonnyville Pontiacs play-by-play voice during the 2019-20 season. He also comments on provincial and national issues. Menzies hosts Connected! Evening Monday-Thursday at 5 o’clock. He also likes to buy books and read some of them.