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County budgets surplus in 2014

County of St. Paul ratepayers to see tax increase due to increased property values

Apr 15, 2014 12:00 pm | Janice Huser

As a result of growth in the St. Paul area, the majority of County of St. Paul residents will notice a slight increase on their 2014 taxes this spring. The County of St. Paul passed its annual budget on April 8, and according to county administration, there was “a huge increase in assessment,” this year.

The market value of property and homes has increased, says county CAO Sheila Kitz. Even farmland will see a bit of an increase, with the municipal mill rate increasing slightly. On most quarter sections of agricultural land the increase will be about $3 to $10, depending on the productivity of the land.

Residential taxes increased by about 1.3 per cent, says Kitz.

“The value of homes is just going up,” she adds. “The county had a significant increase in assessment due to growth as well as an increase in market assessment.”

The county is budgeting a $135,950 surplus for 2014, according to budget documents. The total revenue is budgeted at just under $36.5 million, and expenditures are budgeted at just over $36.3 million. The total revenue from taxes is set at $21.3 million, which is an 18 per cent increase over last year.

“The market value of the land and houses have gone up across the county,” says Reeve Steve Upham, adding, the county has held the municipal mill rate steady for the most part.

According to the budget documents, the school tax requisition has increased, while the MD Foundation requisition for seniors housing has decreased. The non-residential mill rate increased by five per cent, the farmland mill rate increased by three per cent, and the residential mill rate did not increase, according to the budget summary.

“It’s a business as usual budget. We’re not doing anything too extraordinary,” Upham. He adds that one of the biggest highlights of the budget is work on Murphy Road, which is located in the eastern portion of the county and is used heavily by the oil industry.

“It’s a road that we as a council truly believe should be taken over as a secondary highway,” says Upham, adding, the province has not responded favourably to council’s request that would see responsibility of the road shift to the provincial government.

“It’s a major artery for trucks and rig servicing companies,” says the reeve, adding, work needs to be done on the overlay of the road, and the county has received significant help from industry to do the work.

The project is expected to cost $5.9 million and according to Kitz, over $3.3 million has been committed from industry. Council passed a borrowing bylaw for $5 million, and although Kitz doesn’t feel the entire amount will be needed, it is there just in case.

Other public works highlights in the budget include 15 miles of road construction, which is always dependent on the weather. The county will also be trying out some new methods for dust controls that will include laying out cold mix with a paver.

The county often struggles with oiling roads because of the weather, and experimenting with the new method could alleviate some of those challenges, says Upham.

A dumping station in Mallaig and extension to the Ashmont wastewater system, along with work being done on the Ashmont lagoon are items in the sewer department that will be on the list for 2014. There will be about $250,000 worth of expenses to desludge the lagoon, and conduct studies on the lagoon.

“The lagoon is nearing capacity very quickly,” said Kitz.

In Recreation, there will be a playground installed at Lindbergh, creation of overflow parking at Lac Bellevue, and an increase in rates for the county-run parks. There is also an increase to the Town of St. Paul and Town of Elk Point for the county’s contribution to recreation facilities.

The total recreation budget is set to increase by 22 per cent, which also includes playgrounds at Stoney Lake and Floating Stone Lake, streetlights at Westcove, a bathroom at Stoney Lake, and storage shed at Lottie Lake.

In the Culture department, libraries are also seeing an increase in funding in 2014 and the FCSS department will see a 38 per cent increase in the budget to continue on with a number of programs and funding to the St. Paul Education Regional Division’s Family School Liaison Worker (FSLW) Program.

MSI funding from the province is also a consideration in this year’s budget, and will continue to be a considering in future budgets, according to Kitz.

“Eventually, there will be no more MSI operating funding,” says Kitz. This means the county will have to figure out how to fund halls and agricultural societies that had been benefitting from the funding. About $100,000 was lost in MSI operating funding, while about $100,000 was gained in MSI capital, says the CAO.

As a result of the province no longer offering some of its previous grants, the county is seeing $2.3 million less in grant funding this year, says Kitz, adding, that number also includes some federal funding. The loss is mostly a result of the province no longer offering funds for resource roads, which the Murphy Road project could have qualified for.

As for debt, Upham says the county will be paying off a short-term debenture taken out for work on the Northern Valley Road last year, using last year’s surplus to pay for it.

Upham says the county is “managing our debt,” and paying off projects as funds allow.

The county has about $9.7 million worth of debt, says Kitz, adding, most of the debt is long-term with low interest rates of just over 3.5 per cent, locked in for 15 years. The county still has a debt limit of $27.7 million, says the CAO.

Projects set to wrap up in 2014 are the construction of Mallaig and Ashmont fire halls, and the retrofitting of the public works shop. Water continues to be an issue, as the Elk Point waterline nears completion and water is expected to be flowing by the end of the month. The Ashmont/Lottie Lake water project is again in discussion stages and no decision has been made by council regarding the project.

“We’re very happy to present a budget that basically has a $135,000 surplus. That’s basically a balanced budget,” says Upham.

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