Original Published 09:31 Apr 21, 2022

By Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The County of Grande Prairie approved the 2022 capital and operating budgets with no increase in the tax rate.

“I think our commitment to overall keeping the tax rate at a zero per cent increase for the third year in a row recognizes economic and pandemic activities were still very much prevalent over these past three years,” said Leanne Beaupre, county reeve.

“The 2022 budget balances support for our residents, communities and business while continuing to ensure the county’s fiscal sustainability in the face of increased pressures to our bottom line,” she said.

The $188 million overall budget allots $104 million to general operations, $7 million for debt payments and $77 million for capital. 

Beaupre said the county is losing millions of revenue due to the provincial government.

She cites the province’s interference on how industrial properties are assessed, the holiday on taxes for new well and pipeline assessments as well as the eliminated well drilling equipment tax.

“We are estimating that it’s over $4.5 million that we would have seen in revenue this year that we will not see that that that would have been directly invested back into roads and bridge systems,” said Beaupre.

She noted that when approximately $2 million in back taxes from oil and gas industry partners are also considered, the revenue loss climbs to $6.5 million.

Road, bridges dominate capital expenditures

The county says 69 per cent of the capital budget is allocated to road and bridge projects, with $28 million in new projects this year and $25 million carried over from previous years.

The county put $3.33 million to the Hwy. 40 twinning and bridge construction project which is part of its $10 million contribution from 2021 to 2023.

Beaupre said she is proud of the $6.5 million allocated to recreation, community, culture, library, seniors and special needs transportation, and FCSS grants to various organizations across the region.

“It is a testament to how we see those organizations,” she said.

“A lot of them are volunteer-driven, and we appreciate the work that they do and services and the programming that they provide to our residents.”

Aquatera upgrades are also part of the budget, with the county putting $3.8 million toward the Clairmont Regional Lift Station and $596,667 to subsidize wastewater rate increases for county residents.

Beaupre noted that residents not part of the Aquatera system will not be paying anything toward it.

“It’s important to understand that the money used for subsidizing comes directly from dividends and franchise fees from those connected to that system, so it doesn’t come from any general revenue or general taxation,” she said.

Intermunicipal Collaboration Framework (ICF) contributions and cost-sharing agreements with other municipalities, including the City of Grande Prairie and the towns of Beaverlodge, Sexsmith, and Wembley, were set at $2.4 million.

The county’s support to the Beaverlodge fire hall comes in at $1.45 million.

Additionally, $143,107 is contributed to the costs associated with working with P3 Capital Partners Inc. on the Mountview Health Complex project in Beaverlodge.

The City of Grande Prairie will be receiving $1.3 million for the revenue-sharing agreement to foster regional development.

The Teepee Creek Fire Hall replacement was allocated $200,000 for land acquisition and design of the future station.

“We also had inherited debt and some infrastructure deficits from the dissolution of the Village of Hythe,” notes Beaupre.

The budget sets aside significant dollars for Hythe. Improvements include $570,726 in sewage line repairs, a new $20,000 welcome sign, and $10,000 for a new retention tank and water tank filters at the Hythe water treatment plant.

Additionally, $66,770 to water meter installation, $40,000 for well registration and licensing and $30,000 for a road assessment study.  The Hythe fire station will receive $29,000 in regional fire service equipment from the capital budget and $45,666 from the operating budget.

Hythe residents will see a higher tax rate than other county residents due to the incurred costs, says Beaupre,but the county hopes to have the Hythe tax rates the same as the rest of the county within a few years.

Beaupre says the county is keeping its word to other county ratepayers that they would not face the brunt of the cost of adding Hythe to the county.

This item reprinted with permission from Town & Country News, Beaverlodge, Alberta