Inflation, plus RCMP salary increase the biggest factors

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

First the bad news: Slave Lake property owners will see a 5.9 per cent tax increase this year. Not that it will affect everyone’s tax bill by exactly that much. That’s the overall figure.

The good news, if you can call it that, is that it could have been much higher.

When the budgeting process started, said mayor Tyler Warman at the April 5 council meeting, “it was at 15 per cent.”

A process of whittling ensued, bringing the amount down to the more palatable 5.9 per cent increase.

What it should mean for a residential property assessed at $200,000 is a tax hike of $74, according to the calculations of the town’s finance department, and included in the April 5 council meeting agenda package. A residential property valued at $306,000 would see a tax increase of around $114. And so on.

Two main factors contributed to the higher cost of doing business this year. They topped a list of ‘unfavourable’ factors presented to council by the director. The biggest single item was simply the inflated cost of just about everything. This is estimated to be a $270,000 hit to the town’s budget. In other words, that’s how much more stuff will cost the town in 2022 than it did in 2021.

Not far below that are RCMP costs. They are up $240,000 this year over 2021. This comes down to a five-year negotiation on salaries between the union and the federal government finally being settled. The town is responsible for the majority of policing costs incurred locally.

The operating budget consists mainly of the core services, but doesn’t ignore some of council’s strategic priorities. There is money allocated, for example, to downtown beautification, recruitment and retention and something called ‘branding and marketing,’ the latter item being part of council’s vision for economic development.

The capital budget consists of 35 projects – 20 of them new and 15 of them unfinished business from 2021. The price tag for all those is $11.6 million.

Topping the list of new capital projects are two $500,000 items. One is a new spray park, which councillor Brice Ferguson said the town has heard “very clearly” is wanted; the other is a new fire rescue truck. The one it is to replace is 15 years old.

Six vehicles in the town fleet are due for replacement as well. Price tag: $473,675.

Information technology equipment purchases are tagged at $160,000.

The list goes on.

Councillor Ferguson had prepared a wrap-up statement on the budget process. He praised administration for ways to reduce the gap between expected revenues and expenditures. The national inflation rate was 5.7 per cent in February, he noted, pointing to the three per cent inflation in the town’s budget as a notable accomplishment.

“Nearly half of it is due to the RCMP increase,” he added.

Not many people enjoy reading a budget document as much as Ferguson does (he admitted as much in his first campaign for council), and at about 250 pages, this one is pretty daunting. But it is available.

“There’s a lot here,” said mayor Warman, wrapping up council’s discussion. “If they really want to chew on it, they can.”

The entire document can be downloaded from the town’s website.

This item reprinted with permission from Lakeside Leader, Slave Lake, Alberta