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City lands on over $87 million budget, sets out 10-year capital plan

The City of Cold Lake has wrapped up their 2016 budget deliberations on the “biggest budget the city has ever worked with” coming in at a total of $87.6 million.
Cold Lake City Council has wrapped up their 2016 budget deliberations.
Cold Lake is considering book nooks.

The City of Cold Lake has wrapped up their 2016 budget deliberations on the “biggest budget the city has ever worked with” coming in at a total of $87.6 million.

With a projected surplus of slightly over $200,000, the city won't be holding much in reserves. Of the total budget, $41.3 million will be going to operating and the remaining $46.3 million is for capital projects.

“We don't like putting money in the bank. Ever since we got the air weapons range we haven't put one cent in the bank. We have followed the government's order, which was to spend every dollar and take every dollar you get and leverage against it,” said Mayor Craig Copeland.

To fund the budget, $26.35 million will be brought in from the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range in 2016. Thankfully for residents the city stuck to their commitment of a zero per cent tax increase. While the numbers show an increase of 0.4 per cent right now, Copeland said it will go down by the time the city sets their mill rate in the spring.

“We're always conservative for our growth for the city so chances are when May comes along, when you get all of the assessments in from the City of Cold Lake, chances are the city will have grown more in assessment. We'll capture that 0.4 per cent easy.”

For 2016 the city's population projection comes in at 16,051, equating to a $2,573 in operating per capita. While their taxes may not go up, residents can expect to see a five per cent increase on their water and sewer rates. The increase is expected to bring the city around $200,000.

There will be $15.5 million in new debentures taken next year, bringing the total debt load to 59 per cent of their debt limit.

City balances operating budget

A number of community groups in Cold Lake got their ask in next year's budget.

Coming from the operating budget, the library will get a boost in 2016. Not only has the city bumped up their rate by 50 cents per capita, but they've also allocated $5,000 to cover the cost of free library memberships for everyone in the city.

As per their request to council, the Cold Lake Fish and Game Club will be getting their wish of $100,000 in next year's budget. The group attended all local municipalities earlier this year to seek assistance in purchasing sea cans for their latest project: an indoor target shooting range.

The city will also be trying to do some sprucing up themselves. Included in this budget is $100,000 for the spray and patch program for potholes and $50,000 for weed control across the city. There is another $75,000 earmarked for Highway 55 and Highway 28 aesthetics to look at signage issues among other things.

While it wasn't initially included in the budget, the Cold Lake marina was a focus for council during their final deliberation night. Currently in the 2016 capital budget there is $200,000 for breakwater repairs, but council believes they need more details from the engineers about what can be done down there and how much it would cost.

“(We've allocated) $50,000 to work with Associates engineering on the overall scope of the marina,” said CAO Kevin Nagoya. “It will be back at corporate priorities to go over the scope; then there are a lot bigger discussions on dredging and building a launch.”

To fund all of the operating budget requests while keeping tax rates at zero for residents, the city will be using $705,000 of last year's surplus for items that aren't recurring.

After declining a request from the RCMP for $125,000 for an additional member and $60,000 for a third municipal watch clerk, the council deemed it more beneficial to fund a dedicated bylaw officer for the summer months.

Other operating budget items include $25,000 for the winter carnival, $50,000 to the museum as well as a $5,000 increase on their annual grant to bring it to a total of $125,000, $6,000 for the meals on wheels program, $25,000 for the Native Friendship Centre, $40,000 for the Cold Lake Ambulance Society and $45,000 to the Rural Alberta Business Centre.

City council lays out 10-year capital plan

Cold Lake city council is planning for the future. Council set out their 10-year capital plan during budget deliberations, forecasting projects and funding from now until 2025.

“What's really important is a couple of things. One, is understanding the tax implications based on decisions made today. Number two is understanding debt forecasting so we understand how much debentures and financing we're taking on in the community in the next 10 years,” explained Nagoya. “That way we can also understand if there's major infrastructure coming up, for example the wastewater treatment plans, so we know we have capacity within the system to take a look at those big, big projects.”

Starting with 2016, the city will be making a few one-time purchases for the enjoyment of residents. On their list of items to purchase next year is a community event trailer mounted barbeque for $30,000, two baseball diamond mobile bleachers with 100 seats each for $110,000 and, after prompting from Coun. Bob Buckle, a 24-foot by 20-foot mobile stage system that comes with a price tag of $150,000.

“I would like to see us fund that stage this year. We have a bunch of events going on, I think we'd get a lot of us out of it,” said Buckle.

To clean up Kinosoo beach, particularly for events, the city will be bringing in a beach sand screener. The machine can be driven along the sand and will pick up any sort of garbage or vegetation. The sand screener could also be used for cleaning up the ball diamonds and other sports fields.

Altogether, next year the city is on track to spend close to $29.4 million on facilities infrastructure in total; over $8.2 million on roadway infrastructure including $4 million for widening and enhancements to Highway 28 south; $4.8 million on environmental and utility infrastructure, with $3 million of that solely for the meadow storm water trunk extension; and just over $2.4 million on parks and recreation infrastructure, which encompasses all of the Kinosoo Beach enhancements such as the west end entry and pathway, and the east end entry with a boardwalk.

“We don't mind borrowing money, we want to enhance the enjoyment of Cold Lake. So these one-offs, as we call them, like you can get a stage for $150,000. It's all about just making Cold Lake a better place to live and a better area. Our council loves that kind of stuff,” said Copeland, adding that with the current economic state the city is hoping to get some good deals when it comes to tendering projects.

“What's really going to be interesting in 2016 is if construction is coming down. When the tenders come in for the Seniors' Lodge, that'll be the first indication if construction is coming down so when we put out the tenders for the Energy Center maybe we'll hit a sweet spot and be able to build an arena building for under some of the prices we're paying now.”

According to their 10-year capital plan, the city will be looking to spend just over $45 million in capital projects in 2017. In 2022, the first funding for a new $30 million aquatics centre pops up in the plan. The city is planning to need a new wastewater treatment plant come 2020 at a cost of $40 million.

In sticking with their focus on recreation, they have included a number of related initiatives in their 10-year plan such as a BMX park, $1.25 million for a soccer field rehabilitation program starting in 2017, Imperial Park and Iron Horse Trail R/V parks and $2 million for trail improvements and sidewalk connectivity, which will be divided into $200,000 each year starting in 2016.

While the 10-year financial impact model is projecting a $900,000 deficit in 2017 and the need for an 8.82 per cent raise in taxes, Nagoya said those numbers will change.

“It depends how council makes their decision on the revenue side. You can show it in many different aspects and where the revenue's going to come from. For example, if user fees are increased in lieu of taxes....there's still those discussions about how the financial model will look for the next 10-years and of how they want those decisions to be done before we finalize what the forecasting looks like.”

City council proposed bringing information regarding the budget and 10-year capital plan to the public in January or February, 2016. The budget and plan still need to go on the agenda of a regular council meeting before it can get passed.