Thursday , 17 June 2021

Elk Point approves balanced interim budget

The Town of Elk Point passed its interim operating budget for 2021 following more than six hours of discussion on Nov. 16 and Nov. 18.

According to CAO Ken Gwozdz, the updated document will be posted to the Town’s website sometime this week.

In an interview after the Nov. 18 meeting, Mayor Lorne Young said he hopes the community will appreciate council has done everything they can to come up with an operating budget that is balanced, doesn’t require a tax increase, “but also strives to maintain service levels.”

“That is a tough balancing act, and it’s getting harder and harder every year,” he said.

There’s no doubt in my mind that, whether it’s next year or the year after, at some point, some decisions are going to have to be made in terms of, either we have to reduce some service level, or we have to increase taxes,” said Young.

In order to achieve that balanced budget, council made reductions in a number of areas. Significant savings were seen in council expenditures which have decreased with the rise in virtual meetings since the beginning of COVID-19.

By attending meetings virtually, the town no longer has to pay for travel expenses or meals for councillors when they attend.

“On the administrative side, we’re cutting out some discretionary things: reduced training and professional development, travel. Basically, we’ve tried to look at every area and see what we could cut back on without reducing core services.”

They also found savings by not filling vacant positions in recreation and public works.

In public works, Young said some smaller things will be deferred, but the town is carrying on with the big things and still setting some money aside for emergent issues like a broken water line.

“It’s a difficult balancing act trying to do this. We are also still maintaining some reserves. We do set aside some reserves to handle such things as equipment purchase for public works, equipment replacement for our fire department.

“Last year, we also created a new reserve called the emergency recreational reserves and we’ve added some more money to that this year.”

He said the emergency recreational reserve is so that the town has money for repairs of aging recreational facilities like the A.G. Ross Arena in the event of a catastrophic failure.

“I can’t begin to express how much thanks we owe the volunteers in this town for keeping those facilities going. We know things can happen. And we’d like to have a little money set aside to help them out in the event that they need it.

“Now, I want to be clear, this money that we’re setting aside is not for operating expenses. This is for if something of a capital nature were to be needed down the road,” said Young.

Asked if the Town of Elk Point had been at all impacted by the assessment model review competed by the province earlier this year, Young said the impact to Elk Point was minimal, but there was a significant impact for the County of St. Paul which frequently partners with the town, and that could have an affect on Elk Point.

The County of St. Paul will see a $1.5 million decrease in funds because of changes to the assessment model for oil and gas wells and companies.

Young said it’s a difficult time for municipalities across the province, including Elk Point.

“With the economy the way it is, we’re not seeing a lot of new homes built, we’re not seeing a lot of new businesses, building buildings in town. So what that means is our overall assessment is not going up.

“If anything, and we won’t know this until next spring, but the best guess right now is that some of our overall assessment may actually go down,” said Young.

He said the assessment is driven by the value of residential, commercial, and industrial property sales and noted this year the town is in the unfortunate position of having five properties for sale to recoup unpaid taxes from previous years.

“It’s an unfortunate situation because municipalities don’t want to own properties,” said Young.

The mill rate, which determines the amount of taxes property owners must pay will not be set until the town receives its assessment in the spring. Young said it’s important to remember that the interim operating budget is a living document.

“It’s a document that sets direction for Council and for administration. But it is a living document that can change as needed,” said Young.

About Meredith Kerr

Meredith Kerr moved to St. Paul for a career in journalism and morning radio in 2014 expecting to stay for six months to a year. Since then, she has put down roots in the form of a husband, a mortgage, two babies, and a poorly behaved dog. She continues to work as a reporter until such time as she finishes her book and becomes fabulously wealthy from the royalties. Meredith also serves as a member at large on the St. Paul Library Board and volunteers as a Beaver leader for the 1st St. Paul Scout Group.