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Thursday , 21 January 2021

Lac La Biche County passes $76M interim budget, no tax increase projected

There is no projected tax increase for Lac La Biche County residents in the coming year.

On Tuesday, Lac La Biche County council passed their interim budget with $55.5 million allocated to operating costs and $28.3 million of new capital spending to begin in 2021. This new spending is offset by approximately $14.9 million in capital revenues from a combination of grants and reserves set aside in previous years.

The final budget must be passed by April 31, 2021 and there can be changes made in the meantime.

Council also passed the 2022-2026 Financial Plan and 2022-31 Capital Plan at Tuesday’s council meeting.

Mayor Omer Moghrabi explained there is little appetite to raise taxes during these tough economic times.

“This is no time to raise taxes for one of the most hardest-hit regions, not just talking about Lac La Biche County, but in the northeast,” said Mayor Omer Moghrabi on the Day After Debrief.

“People are without work. Now they’re off of work and they’re confined to their homes. This would not be the time to raise it.”

Using capital dollars to stimulate the local economy, $3,786,000 is going towards underground work on Main Street Lac La Biche in 2021 with plans to further bolster the downtown area. Long-term, the county projects $20 million in spending on Main Street revitalization.

The Bold Center’s final phases will see continued work in 2021 with the expansion of sports fields, campgrounds, and ball diamonds. With a federal grant and provincial MSI (Municipal Sustainability Initiative) money, construction could begin in the fall for the new $15 million pool.

There is still design and consultation work that need to be done, said Moghrabi.

Roughly $760,000 has been carried over for revitalizing Plamondon Main Street. Five bridges and culverts will be replaced as well and that will cost $2.7 million, of which 73 per cent is grant-funded.

Lift stations will be built near Plamondon for $2 million to improve sewer services in the area, as well.

“In the last six years, we’ve spent over $200 million on infrastructure. We’ve been a stimulus for our region, local contractors, Alberta contractors–we’re going to continue with that,” said Moghrabi.

“Every community has a vast infrastructure deficit, we realize that. So we’ve been picking away from our underground pipes that are 70 years old, and also trying to do some economic things in terms of developing our sports fields and the Bold Center regarding the aquatic center approval.”

Debt servicing payments will drop from almost $6.5 million in 2018 to a little over $300,000 in 2021 as the Bold Center has been fully paid off by the county.

This year, $5.9 million will be set aside in reserves. By the end of 2021, the county said they will have $28 million in accumulated reserves, which will allow the municipality more flexibility to build new infrastructure.

The mill rate, currently at 5.89, could also go down in coming years, as the county looks to get to a 5:1 ratio as mandated by the Government of Alberta.

Water rates could be rising as county council will look at other specialized municipalities in the province for comparables. Moghrabi said they’ll see the hard costs by late February.

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.