By Stan Ashbee
Sunny South News
As Lethbridge County moves forward into 2016 and beyond it is faced with finding feasible funding to continue the maintenance and reconstruction of the county’s Market Access Network, which includes 2,000 kilometres of roads and 167 bridges. A report was submitted to county council at a recent meeting held Apr. 7. The county, according to the report, needs to collect over $3 million annually to invest in this network starting in 2016 and the county has come up with options to find a fair and equitable distribution of the costs to the main users of the network.
These options were unveiled at a number of open houses throughout the county to discuss options with residents and to obtain feedback about which option would suit residents and the county best.
Council, after much deliberation, passed the motion to approve Funding the Future Option 4, as the funding option and administration present the Amended Business Tax Bylaw #1165, Special Tax Bylaw #1464 and Community Aggregate Levy Bylaw #1340 for first reading based on Funding the Future Option 4.
According to the report submitted to council, Option 4 is based on a two-year phase-in approach of Option 1 with 75 per cent of revenue from the business tax and special tax in 2016 and increased to 100 per cent in 2017. Option 1, the report stated, reflects calculations based on the economic impact method resulting in $925,740 or 26 per cent of revenue generated from special tax and $2,474,260 or 71 per cent from the intensive livestock industry through a business tax and the balance of approximately $100,000 or three per cent from the sand and gravel industry. The report stated the 2016 tax rate in Option 4 is $3 per animal unit and a 2016 revenue of $1,855,695.
The report also stated the county’s 2016 budget includes $1.6 million for road construction, $1.4 million for bridge replacement/repair and $500,000 for hardtop surfaces, which will be placed in a capital reserve for a future hardtop project.
Under the Special Tax Bylaw #1464, Option 4 2016 tax rate would be 4.4140 and revenue of $694,286. Under the Community Aggregate Payment Levy council approval of any of the options will result in a tax rate of $.25/tonne and total revenue of $100,000.
A few of the themes emerging from the open houses from some of the public consultations included the notion livestock should pay more, dry land pays too much, NRCB licences don’t work, administration efficiencies, implement the option selected over two to three years, lobby for a gas tax, irrigation districts should contribute to the costs, the implementation of road-use agreements, some thought the option selected shouldn’t be implemented in stages, and keep Lethbridge County competitive. “Council wanted to take into consideration the input we received during the open house sessions. We understand Option 1 may be a substantial impact to livestock producers in 2016. However, we also need to consider the support we received from various residents on Option 1. We believe administration provided us a reasonable alternative with Option 4. It’s a good compromise.” said Reeve Lorne Hickey, in a recent media release. Municipal Services Director Rick Bacon explained to council during questioning he will have to review his 2016 work plan to confirm the capital projects that will not receive upgrade, replacement and repair funding in 2016.
Two more open houses will be held to give residents a more detailed overview of Option 4 and the impacts for not generating the required $3.5 million, the release stated.