Council passes three per cent tax increase
Okotoks: 2018 budget includes on-demand transit pilot, new south fire hall staff
Tuesday, Dec 12, 2017 09:28 am
Okotoks homeowners will pay more on the municipal portion of their property taxes next year, an additional $5.83 per month for the average home.
Town council approved a three-per-cent increase on the municipal portion of 2018 property taxes on Dec. 11, which will add about $68 per year a for the typical home worth approximately $450,000.
The increase is nearly double the 1.7 per cent increase approved in December 2017.
Coun. Matt Rockley, chair of the finance and budget committee, said he’s satisfied with the budget and service level enhancements the Town will provide in 2018. During budget discussions he argued to lower the tax increase to inflation – about 1.4 per cent – because he believed some of the proposed new staff could be cut from the budget.
“When I took a closer look at the positions being proposed there really wasn’t that much that could be cut back,” said Rockley.
Staff increases amount to $670,000 and will include four full-time firefighters to keep the south fire hall staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in addition to staff to run the new Pason Centennial Arena expansion and planning staff to assist with future development in town.
“While in a perfect world I would have preferred the tax rate increase had been at inflation, I reconciled to myself that there were some significant service level enhancements this year and did require addition people to make that happen,” said Rockley. “I’m sure the service level enhancements will be worth it in making the Town of Okotoks the great place it is.”
The $56.3 million operating budget for 2018 includes $4.3 million towards the Town’s reserve funds and $3.2 million in debt repayment.
Highlights include $65,000 for increased snow removal around Town buildings and seven days per week on Town pathways.
Rockley said increasing the amount of snow removal on primary pathways is a big deal in Okotoks, where heavy or prolonged snowfall can make some areas impassible when paths are not cleared on weekends.
Though a regional water pipeline remains a top priority for the Town, the $35-million expenditure has been delayed for three years with the acquisition of interim water licences, as council awaits word on provincial funding. In the five-year operating budget plan, $17.96 million is scheduled for 2021 and $17.92 million for 2022 for a waterline.
The budget also includes $290,000 to implement an on-demand public transportation pilot program and funds to operate the expanded Pason Centennial Arena.
Proceeding with on-demand transit will be important for Okotoks residents as well, he said.
“This has been successful in other municipalities and uses the best of technology to focus that service to the riders who need it,” said Rockley. “It’s on-demand rather than fixed-route, which is cost effective and a good service for its ridership.”
The approved budget also sees $34.6 million for capital expenditures, consisting of $12.88 million for 2018 projects and $12.95 million for multi-year capital projects.
Items in the capital budget include $4.1 million for utilities and upgrades to new development, with $250,000 earmarked for improvements to Highway 7 at Secondary Highway 783. In addition, $500,000 is allotted for playfield development on the community campus site off 32 Street on the north end of town, and $500,000 for making the second floor of the curling rink and the community room at the Okotoks Recreation Centre wheelchair-accessible.
There is also $2.7 million in the 2018 capital budget for replacing the Laurie Boyd pedestrian bridge in Sheep River Park.
“We’re moving to a larger bridge structure more suitable to our community size,” said Rockley.
Residents will also see some fees rise in 2018, including a $9.45 bi-monthly hike on utility bills for water, sewer, storm and waste management. There will be minor increases to rental rates of Town facilities.
Mayor Bill Robertson said the 2018 budget strikes a good balance between maintaining services and planning for growth.
“I’m quite pleased overall with the budget and the overall process,” said Robertson. “There are some service enhancements and a number of. Nobody has asked for service reductions in our community so a proposed three per cent increase on the typical home I believe is responsible.”