Woodlands County residents to see service cuts, property tax increases

Residents of Woodlands County will see cuts in services and an increase in their property taxes under a new five-year financial plan approved earlier this month.

The county council voted unanimously on Oct. 1 to implement the plan, which includes an immediate 15-per-cent cut in the operating budget and a three-per-cent annual increase in property taxes for each of the next five years.

Woodlands County is a rural municipality about 150 kilometres northwest of Edmonton. The county has a population of 4,750 and an annual operating budget of around $18 million.

The new plan also includes a $3-million cap on capital expenditures, unless approved by council.

“I cannot in good conscience promise the same level of service,” Mayor John Burrows told CBC News on Thursday. “There is going to be a decreased level of service when you cut spending to the degree that we’re looking at cutting spending.”

There will be longer waits for things such as approval permits, he said. The county is also looking at “changing the way we plow the snow, to the way roads are maintained, changes to our dust control”, Burrows said.

‘There is no choice’

The financial plan was needed because the county has been unable to collect a total of $9.5 million in taxes from two large oil and gas companies and from other businesses and residents, Burrows said. 

It’s estimated the county will see continued annual revenue shortfalls of $2.6 million for the next five years, he said.

“It’s terrible,” Burrows said. “There is no choice and we have to plan for the worst and hope for the best.”

The county can recover if it follows the new financial plan and spends responsibly, Burrows said, but it will have to act carefully.

“We have to ensure that the community continues to operate as an attractive place to do business while going through this recovery,” he said.

The county will look to the provincial government for help when it comes to collecting outstanding taxes, since it currently has no mechanism in place to do so itself, Burrows said.

With more than 60 Alberta municipalities facing similar situations, the issue is expected to be front and centre at the Rural Municipalities of Alberta convention on Nov. 12 to 15 in Edmonton, he said.

“The big word for the future here is sustainability,” Burrows said. “We have to make sure the communities are viable going forward.”

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