The Town of Stonewall presented its 2018 financial plan to the public during a meeting on April 25. The proposed budget includes a tax increase of 1.94% and a water rate increase of 80%- the latter chalked down to fulfilling a Public Utilities Board mandate.
“The utility wasn’t able to sustain its costs. The reason for that is that in 2010, the province imposed (a program), which forced all municipalities to account for the amortization of its properties, so not only do you have to cover operating costs, but also the physical costs of all the capital, water lines, treatment plants and lagoons (etc.),” CAO Wally Melnyk explained at the meeting.
“The fact that we had an accounting change, coupled with the fact that we ran some deficits initiated a rate study. That study then determined what percentage increase was required.”
As a result, the average water bill will go up by $53.95 per quarter, a town report noted. The increase will be ongoing through 2021.“When you look at it, in terms of what it is, in terms of per quarter, in terms of per year and how does it shape up against the other communities and how does it position Stonewall financially going forward- it’s the right thing to do,” Mayor Lockie McLean said.
He noted, on the whole, Stonewall was doing well financially. “We tried to stay out of the taxpayers’ pockets, although we have done a lot of projects (over the years)... I think the town is in very good shape.”
For a balanced budget, the town’s budgeted revenue for 2018 will be approximately $8.6 million. Included in this amount is the collection of municipal taxes to the tune of about $3.2 million.
This year, the town will add approximately $200,000 worth of additional revenue from taxes due in part to the $10,000,000 assessment of Lions’ Manor and the addition of 43 new homes in the area.
Residential property assessments for 2018 were down approximately 7% compared to 2017, while commercial property assessments went up by 5%. The town’s general mill rate sits at 8.301 for 2018.
Expenses for the town include government services for $871,156, protective services for $1.025 million and fiscal (debt) services for $2.56 million. Capital investments include the purchase of a new fire truck and equipment for $400,000, soccer field improvements for about $10,000, Ice Palace plant repairs and lift purchase for $75,000, paving for Third Avenue South for $1,350,000 and $95,000 for a feasibility study of the Kilns, ball diamond upgrades and interpretive signage. The town has set aside approximately $3.2 million for its lagoon.
As well, the town has budgeted $1 million (through borrowing) for the potential acquisition of property in conjunction with a significant economic development initiative.
“The project isn’t guaranteed to proceed at this time so we can’t divulge a lot of details. Suffice it to say that the initiative is needed, the Town and area partners are committed, and the Stonewall Council is fully engaged in making it a reality”, said Mayor McLean, in a prepared statement.
The project, should it move forward, will address a long pressing need in the community and surrounding area, the statement added.
Stonewall approved 13 community organizations for grants, including REACT, Southwest Teens at Risk, South Interlake 55 Plus and the Stonewall Youth Drop in Centre.
The town also committed to partnering with the heritage committee to help improve the cemetery’s operations including improving record keeping and administration.