Council approves final 2024 town budget

By Rob Vogt
After some adjustments, Claresholm town council has approved the 2024 town budget.
Blair Bullock, the town’s director of corporate services, presented the budget at the April 8 council meeting.
He noted there have been some changes since council approved the interim budget.
Changes to the operating budget include:
• The addition of a new special tax levy proposed to fund current and future capital projects related to recreation infrastructure. This is a $360,000 additional tax levy, representing approximately a 9.6 percent tax increase.
• The property tax revenue outside of this new special tax levy however, has decreased from the proposed 4.5 percent increase in the interim budget to 3.6 per cent.
• Increased requisition amounts for the Porcupine Hills Lodge, at $37,000, and education, for $80,000 from interim budget estimates.
• A decrease in the economic development budget, primarily in wages due to a restructuring and decrease in staffing.
• A net increase in the cost of aquatic centre operations primarily related to the wages and benefits of staffing with increased utilization and programming as residents slowly return to pre-pandemic usage levels.
• Additional revenues for the arena based on increased funding from the Municipal District of Willow Creek for inflationary cost increases as part of the intermunicipal collaboration framework recreation agreement of $5,000.
• More operating grant funding from the new Local Government Fiscal Framework, than conservatively budgeted for in the interim budget, resulting in a $22,800 increase.
• Reduced revenue from penalties on taxes, based on what taxes were outstanding on Dec. 31, 2023, which is about $30,000.
• Other inflationary cost increases totaling $39,000, including insurance at $9,000, utilities at $18,000, planning fees at $4,000 and others.
Other operating budget changes had no net effect on taxes, including:
• Carrying forward grant-funded projects from 2023, including the Federation of Canadian Municipalities building energy monitoring project; a Northern and Regional Economic Development program grant for the North Point area structure plan and broadband study, and adjustments in family and community support services funding and related expenses.
• A reduction in budgeted, that is anticipated, revenues from water and sewer utilities based on decreased water usage with water restrictions, as well as increased costs in the water utility with aging infrastructure and poorer water quality with drought conditions. This is offset with a reduction in transfers to reserves for the year.
• An adjustment in the amount of investment income expected, offset by an increase in the transfer to reserves as the interest is being earned on reserve funds.
• Reserve-funded additional purchases/projects including the development of electronic forms for paperless workflow and a new Alberta First Responders Radio Communications System radio for the fire command truck.
Capital budget changes include:
• Carrying forward and expansion of the Amundsen Park re-development project to reflect the receipt and use of an Enabling Accessibility Grant of $100,000 received unexpectedly, as the town was informed the previous year it was unsuccessful in its application.
• Carrying forward and expansion of the stormwater outfall project. Original plans were only to go from the golf course ponds, along Westlynn Drive to Highway 520. However, it was determined they can’t install the vault required at Highway 520 without disturbing, or digging up, the entire width of the highway. It was decided best to continue the line all the way across rather than dig it up a second time in the future to proceed with the last section of this phase of the stormwater master plan, as it is less expensive to finish it up now.
• The Centennial Park playground project is being deferred to 2025, as the town was unsuccessful with a Community Facilities Enhancement Program grant application.
• The Claresholm Community Centre accessibility project is being delayed to early 2025 based on the preference of the hall board as to when it is best to close the facility for the project.
• An update in the pricing and funding of the skatepark project.
Bullock noted this was the town’s third budget year after implementing its new community grants policy. This requires community organizations receiving operational funding from the town, to submit an application for funding, instead of the town continuing to provide the same funding as the previous year.
Six applications were received in February which were reviewed by administration and the town’s audit and finance committee. Funding amounts approved, and included in this budget, are unchanged from 2023 and are as follows:
• Claresholm Public Library, $178,000;
• Bridges at Claresholm Golf Club, $50,000;
• Claresholm Child Care Society, $25,000;
• Claresholm Animal Rescue Society, $30,000;
• Claresholm Community Centre, $30,000;
• Claresholm and District Transportation Society, $15,000.
Council then approved the final 2024 budget as presented, with everyone voting in favour except Mayor Brad Schlossberger and Coun. Kieth Carlson who were opposed and Coun. Mike Cutler who was absent.