The City of Cold Lake is in the midst of drafting their 2016 budget, and council is determined to hold the line on taxes for local residents and business owners.
“The big concern on city council is the economy. Everybody is aware that we've got a lot of people that lost their jobs and unfortunately in Cold Lake we've got a lot of people that owe us taxes,” said Mayor Craig Copeland. “Even though this time last year we would have said we'd forecast a two or three per cent budget, we've all said that with the state of the economy and I don't think there's a person on council that doesn't have a friend who's lost their job.”
In keeping with trying to make Cold Lake more affordable, council decided they would also like to continue offering free transit. However, there could be some increases to residents. If the draft budget is passed, there will be a five per cent increase on water bills for residences in the city. Copeland said the rise is the next step in the city's goal to make the service reach cost recovery.
“The other fee, the garbage and the recycling, what we're going to do is not raise the utility bills. What we're finding is that we have a lot of people using the landfill and we're going to charge that fee, whether we keep it at $5 or not, to go in and use the landfill regardless of who you are. There's 38,000 (vehicles going through) that landfill,” said Copeland.
Despite the commitment of a zero per cent tax increase, the city didn't shy away from doling out funding in the draft operational budget. A number of local community groups could be seeing the additional dollars that they had requested should the draft budget be approved.
After coming to council earlier this month requesting help, the Cold Lake Ambulance Society is slated to receive $40,000 in the 2016 budget, money which will go towards a new ambulance and help allow the society to maintain running two frontline units. Another association who will be pleased with the draft budget is the Cold Lake Fish and Game Club, who is set to get $100,000 in funding. The club has been looking for the funds from local municipalities for the creation of a new range that will be built with sea-cans, offering space for a variety of activities including archery and an indoor rifle range.
The Cold Lake Museums and Air Force Museum is proposed to receive a $5,000 bump in their grant for a total of $125,000, along with an additional $50,000 contribution in 2016.
“I think this is an important part of Cold Lake; this is a group that's going to be here for a long time,” said Coun. Darrell MacDonald.
The museums had originally asked for a commitment of $50,000 per year for three years, but council decided they weren't comfortable with being tied-in long term.
“I don't mind the $50,000 but I'd like to see some fundraising and some initiative taking on their part,” said Coun. Bob Buckle, adding he would like the city and museums to look at the big picture of what could be done with the surrounding land as well.
Following the trend of other cities in the province, Cold Lake has proposed offering free library memberships for residents in 2016. The memberships would see the city giving $12,868 to the local library.
If the draft budget is passed, the city will be rolling out a new weed control program for $50,000. The program would cover spraying to control plants such as dandelions throughout the entire city, with the exception of on the base due to federal regulations. The spray and patch program to mend roads would also get $100,000.
Part of the City of Cold Lake's budget deliberations included exploring the 10-year capital plan. Starting in 2016, the city is proposing just over $44 million in capital spending, which would leave them with a $1.95 million surplus.
Spending at the Energy Centre under the draft capital budget will equal $27 million in 2016. To replace the north arena and a link extension, the city plans to spend $10 million; $7 million will be used for a second field house and link extension; $6 million to turn the current field house into a gymnastics and dance centre; and $4 million for the new artificial turf and grand stand. All of those projects are also earmarked for funds under the 2017 capital budget, with the gymnastics and dance centre falling under the 2018 capital budget as well.
“A big, big focus is recreation; we're going to go hard at the Energy Centre next phases. It's exciting to be a kid, I wish I was 12-years-old,” said Copeland. “The sports field is going to be exciting for the football players, the soccer players, the rugby players to have an elite field with an artificial turf...Council's really committed to that vision, we need that completed and then we'll move on to other projects.”
The city's annual street improvement program is budgeted for $1.75 million and the Highway 28 south widening and expansion will get $4 million in the 2016 budget of the total $40 million price tag.
In the following years for Cold Lake's 10-year capital plan; the draft budget states that residents will see the construction of an aquatics centre starting in 2022. The north fire hall is slated for $7 million in funding in 2020, the RCMP office is proposed for a $1.5 million expansion in 2018.
The Cold Lake Air Weapons Range is expected to account for over $26 million of revenue in 2016. With a population projection of 16,051 people, the city's operating dollars per capita in the draft budget comes in a $2,571. Current debt in the proposed 2016 budget sits at just over $37.6 million.
City council will be back in budget deliberations this Thursday. All numbers are subject to change until the final budget is approved in early December.