Town Budget 2015

It’s that time of year when Council approves the final budget for 2015. The budget process is one that our Administration started in September 2014, and has been reviewed by Council on numerous occasions. This has included department reviews through Special Meetings, along with many discussions at the Policies and Priorities Committee, and at our annual Council Planning Session. Input was also received from the public through representation on Council Committees.

In December 2014, Council unanimously approved an interim budget increase of 4.95% for the upcoming year; with legislation requiring the final budget be adopted prior to April 30, 2015. Typically by this time, the Town has received the final assessment figures for our community, plus confirmation on how grants, both federally and provincially, will affect the bottom line. Council has always tried to maintain a balance between maintaining the quality of life and service levels that our residents have come to expect, along with accounting for inflation and being mindful of the economy as a whole.

At last night’s Council Meeting, the final 2015 budget was approved, and the relative tax rate was reduced from 4.95% to 3.78%. In March, the Town’s assessor released the final assessment figures for our community. His report indicated that the average residential assessment, based on market increased in 2014 by 9.9% (some areas were higher and some were lower).

The chart below gives 3 examples of this.

  • The first example listed shows an assessment increase above the 9.9% average.  In this situation, the tax increase for this homeowner would be $116.94 for 2015 or a 5.65% increase.
  • The second example listed shows an assessment increase right at the 9.9% average.  In this situation, the tax increase for this homeowner would be $76.57 for 2015 or a 3.7% increase.
  • The third example listed shows an assessment increase but below the 9.9% average.  In this situation, the taxes would decrease for this homeowner by $19.13 for 2015 or .92% decrease.

municipal tax examples for 2015

I hope that this puts some perspective into how this year’s adjustment may affect your family.

In addition, I’ve also included a chart to show how each dollar you pay in taxes is allocated to the various departments within the Town of Whitecourt.

Special Summary Tax dollars

Hopefully the information that I’ve shared here is informative to you and your family. The Town’s official 2015 Budget Report will be available on our website by the end of April at www.whitecourt.ca and I encourage you to check it out.

Please let me know if there is any additional information or topics that you would like me to share with the community. I enjoy writing these blogs and look forward to sharing my next one with you………….

Whitecourt in March, 2015

March was another busy and exciting month for me and for our community. It started with Barb Stegmann spending 2 days in Whitecourt, first speaking to our students and inspiring them with her success story; then speaking at the Chamber of Commerce Economic Forum. Not only did we have Barb at the forum, we were also fortunate to have Pinball Clemons. Mayor Rennie and I also spoke to those in attendance about various projects within our communities. I think the highlight of our presentation was the announcement of scheduled airline service between Calgary and Whitecourt coming in the near future. It was also nice to have our MP, Jim Eglinski visit Council to discuss issues that are federal in scope that he could be of assistance with. A great way to end the week is always with family and/or friends. I was excited this weekend to celebrate a great friend’s milestone birthday with a surprise party,…. (don’t ask which one, as we are all getting up there)…..ok I’ll tell, she turned 50 years young!! The next week was filled with local committee meetings (Joint Liaison, Joint Economic Development) and then off to Edmonton for the Mayor’s Caucus. Not only was this a great opportunity to meet with various provincial ministers, network with my peers but also attend sessions covering important topics such as viability, municipal water and waste water, seniors’ issues, municipal government act, police funding, transportation and the upcoming budget. The week ended with a great announcement from MLA VanderBurg that our communities were successful in receiving provincial grant funding towards a fire rescue truck and the winter park project. As I don’t have many free weekends, I took advantage of this one and made a quick trip back into Edmonton on Saturday and spent the day with my children. We had a great visit, went out for supper and saw the movie Unfinished Business. MP Eglinski was back in Whitecourt the following week discussing caribou sustainability, a big topic for our forestry industry. Enbridge representatives also stopped by our office for a visit on their “right of way” tour. The Protective Services committee met with the RCMP for a community update and the Economic Development committee had excellent discussions on upcoming projects. The one thing about the members from all of our committees is that there is never a shortage of ideas on how to improve our community and the quality of life for our residents, employers and employees. I also had an opportunity to sit in on question period at the Legislature after a meeting with Minister Khan and enjoyed listening to the questions posed by all sides of the house. Some people say I’m a little different as I used to tape and watch question period daily, before I became busy in my role as Mayor. This week celebrated the Business Support Network’s first year with a gala and an excellent speaker for business owners and employees. I also had an opportunity to speak to a young group of professionals in Edmonton, discussing the benefits and challenges of the oil and gas industry within the Town of Whitecourt. The week ended at the Fish and Game dinner which I thoroughly enjoyed. Along with the wild game, I tried frogs legs for the first time and have to say they were pretty good. The last full week was a busy one starting with one of my favourite groups, the Mayor’s Youth committee. Council also met with the Town’s administrative team for our annual retreat. This always offers a huge busy agenda, great discussions and visionary planning for our community’s future. Some of the topics included our 2015 business plan, the 20 year capital plan, capital/operating reserve reviews and land inventory, just to name a few. On the 26th, we saw the provincial budget revealed and in Minister Campbell’s speech confirmation that Whitecourt will be 1 of 8 communities in the Province receiving new builds. After the budget reading, I had an excellent meeting with Health Minister Mandel and MLA Vanderburg reconfirming that the province has approved a hospital that will serve as a pilot project for the rest of Alberta. This model will be a template that can be rescaled and used in like size communities. We will be taking this opportunity to see if the hospital can also include other medical professional tenants in the new build and I look forward to providing further updates as we proceed with this project. Some of my Alberta Urban Municipalities Association obligations this month included attending an Investment Advisory Committee meeting, Board of Governors meeting along with an Elected Officials Professional Development meeting which are always educational. The downfall of my month was that I was not as dedicated to my fitness routine as I was in the previous months. I did attend a couple of yoga classes, was on the treadmill and did some weights but saw the scales teeter up a few pounds. Definitely incentive to get back at it. And that ladies and gentlemen is March in a nutshell!! Now let’s see what April has in store for us…….I’m sure it won’t be dull. I would love to hear from those reading this blog. It’s been 3 months now…..are there other topics you would like to see me cover??? #mywhitecourtlife

Where Do My Municipal Tax Dollars Go?

When I started blogging in January it was to update residents on how I represented our community, both locally and provincially. In addition to this, it was to also share some of my personal thoughts with you. Since my first posting, I reflect on some of the questions that come to me through various means that cannot be answered in a one liner – either written or verbally.   One of the most popular questions is – so where do my local tax dollars go and this is a great question. This is a topic that comes up on a regular basis and there is sometimes confusion over what is municipally funded and what your provincial and federal government’s tax dollars are responsible for.   It’s also interesting to see how our tax dollar is spread out over many different areas.

Below is a chart, simplified a bit, but gives you the big picture of the different responsibilities of different levels of government:

Service Federal Provincial Municipal
National Defense XXX
Criminal Law XXX
Employment Insurance XXX
Postal Service XXX
Trade Regulation XXX
Transportation XXX XXX
Citizenship XXX
Aboriginal Affairs XXX XXX
Agriculture XXX XXX
Radio/Telecommunication XXX
Food Safety XXX
Environment XXX XXX XXX
Civil Rights XXX
Energy Production XXX
Health Care XXX
Education XXX
Highways XXX XXX
Provincial Court XXX
Hunting/Fishing XXX
Social Services XXX XXX
Parks and Recreation XXX XXX XXX
Emergency Services XXX XXX XXX
Local Roads XXX
Economic Development XXX
Public Transportation XXX
Library XXX
Water and Sewer XXX
Culture/Tourism XXX XXX XXX

These are the major areas covered by all levels of government. Some of the areas do overlap, as seen above. It’s important to know though that the province is responsible for the bigger things such as health care facilities and delivery of those services, schools, seniors care facilities and delivery of this care, maintenance of highways year round (including Highway 43 and 32). This also includes the traffic signals and illumination lights along these highways.

The municipal responsibilities listed above, can be further expanded to include many of the following services:

Environmental 

  • Garbage removal
  • Landfill
  • Transfer Station

Social Services

  • Food Bank
  • Youth Development
  • Community Programing
  • Grant Programs
  • Family Violence Initiative
  • Early Childhood Development
  • Seniors Programs

Parks and Recreation

  • Maintenance and enhancements of parks throughout Whitecourt
  • Maintenance and enhancement of sports fields
  • Maintenance and enhancement of recreation facilities within Whitecourt, including the AJMC, Scott Safety Centre, Carlan Service Community Resource Centre, and outdoor rinks
  • Continue to provide recreational year round programming to residents of all ages
  • Continue to partner with groups on projects that will enhance the quality of life of our residents such as the Winter Recreation Park

Emergency Services

  • Police protection (through the Provincial Policing Agreement)
  • Fire protection
  • Victim services (through partnership with Victim Services)
  • Disaster services
  • By-law enforcement

Local Roads (within Town boundaries and excluding Highways 43 and 32)

  • Building and maintenance of roads and sidewalks
  • Snow removal
  • Street lights
  • Street cleaning
  • Trail development and maintenance
  • Traffic signal installation and maintenance

Economic Development

  • Vitalization projects such as the downtown and highway corridor
  • Inter-municipal projects with Woodlands County
  • Consultation and updating of land use planning documents
  • Participation in trade shows, conferences
  • Working with all partners to promote Whitecourt, both within and outside our community
  • Continue to work with Joint Economic Development and Tourism committee to promote our communities
  • Work with the County on the development of the airport and services offered
  • Continue to promote Whitecourt through the Town’s website, social media and conventional means
  • Continue to participate in community events throughout the year

Public Transportation

  • Public transit
  • Seniors and handicapped transportation

Library

  • Continue to enhance programs and services not currently offered by the Town

Water and Sewer

  • Public works
  • Storm sewer maintenance
  • Water Treatment Plant operation and maintenance
  • Meter installation and repair
  • Sewage Treatment Plant operation and maintenance
  • Lift station installation and maintenance

Culture and Tourism

  • Continue to expand cultural opportunities and events within Whitecourt
  • Continue to work with the Performing Arts Society to bring a variety of musical and drama opportunities to Whitecourt
  • Work with the Joint Economic Development and Tourism Committee to enhance tourism opportunities to our area

At the end of each year, the Town publishes a Budget Report that highlights projects that have been completed within our borders and outlines potential upcoming projects. It also gives you breakdown in percentages as to how those tax dollars are utilized. The link for the 2014 Budget Report is:

http://www.whitecourt.ca/Residents/MediaCentre/PublicationsReports/tabid/658/Default.aspx

I hope this answers some of the questions that have been asked of me over the past 16 months regarding our municipal tax dollars and where they are allotted to. I encourage you to check out the 2014 report and let me know if you have any questions. We can look forward to seeing our 2015 Budget Report being available in the upcoming months!

Whitecourt in February, 2015

If I had to use one word to describe February, I would have to say whirlwind!! For me it started out with watching the Super Bowl with a group of friends – couldn’t tell you who won, but I did enjoy all the appies I ate, not to mention the wine and great conversation. I also had a chance to see American Sniper and will have to say that was an amazing movie.

My first week saw me in Edmonton for two days representing the AUMA (Alberta Urban Municipalities Association), once meeting with the FCM’s (Federation of Canadian Municipalities) International Relations Committee and the second visit was with the Safe and Healthy Communities Committee. This week also saw me come down with a respiratory condition that I still can’t seem to shake at month end. I still have that dry, hacking cough that lots of you out there have and others find annoying and hate listening to. Oh well, that’s life. This week also saw Minister Mandel come to Whitecourt for a tour of our hospital. We heard the Minister tell us that Whitecourt would see a new facility starting in the next 18 months and opening somewhere in late 2019. Thank you to MLA VanderBurg for all the hard work on this project. I am looking forward to seeing confirmation of this in the 3 year capital plan when the Province unveils its budget in March. Stay tuned!!

The next week, outside of our Council meeting and an AUMA executive meeting, Whitecourt embraced the World Snowmobile Invasion. It amazed me at the volunteer appreciation night that this celebration included 30 sub-committees and over 300 volunteers. Totally overwhelming and hats off to everyone involved!! We even had members of the oil and gas industry that came up for the parade from Calgary. I had a chance, along with Mayor Rennie, to showcase our community to them and have to say they were impressed with everything our communities have to offer for families of all ages. Thursday night’s parade was an incredible experience. The community spirit that was shown and the variety of ages represented was amazing. I also had the opportunity to participate in a delegate ride with sledders from across Canada, along with representatives from Japan. We rode approximately 90kms and for those that don’t know me, that was a lot for this princess!! I was happy it was a nice day as I absolutely hate being cold!! More importantly all of these people were overwhelmed with the hospitality and community pride that all of us showed. I also took in both freestyle events on the weekend and that was a total thrill. All I can say is that I’m happy none of those riders were my sons as I had one heart attack after another watching them! Both evening events at the Allan & Jean Millar Centre were amazing too. They included the Boom Chucka Boys, Fleetwood Mac and ABBA tribute bands, along with cultural presentations and finished off with the amazing Alan Doyle. I think it’s been years since I’ve had so much fun dancing the nights away with many friends and my daughter. We also had the opportunity to complete a mill tour at Millar Western with our Japanese delegation and learned many things from that tour on international relations that I want to follow up on in 2015. In addition, I loved the opportunity to MC the VIP delegate event to say thank you to the delegations that visited us from across Canada and overseas. This week was so busy, but one of my favourite events is always the Town/County checkpoint during the rally. This year we had the Canada checkpoint and served over 1500 burgers to hungry sledders. I enjoy being able to talk to those who visit us from across Canada to see what they love most about Whitecourt and area. This year, it was cool – after talking to one group for a while I realized one of them was a cousin I haven’t seen for, we will just say a few years. OK, maybe it was when I lived in Two Hills and I moved from there in 1970, you do the math!

Family day was spent with both family and friends, that included turkey dinner!! What a great way to kick off another busy week. Eastlink TV paid us a visit to produce a series on Whitecourt and what it has to offer our residents. Sites included the Forest Interpretative Centre, Rotary Park, the Allan & Jean Millar Centre, along with a piece on the Snowmobile Invasion. Later on, I had the great opportunity to Chair the Business Support Network meeting that, once again, was well attended by businesses in our community. This week was also the monthly birthday tea at the Spruce View Lodge. It is always a pleasure to spend time with the seniors in our community!! Coincidentally this week, we saw a great announcement of a 50 bed assisted living facility being approved by the provincial government to the tune of $4,750,000.000. This will now allow our aging population another option of care and allow them to stay in our community! The Community Lunch box program hosted their fundraiser which was well attended by many of us in the area, showing support for a great program!

The last week of February included many meetings, including Council, Mayor’s Youth Committee, 2 meetings with AUMA and 2 open houses for the proposed performing arts facility. It was a joy to also be back helping with the breakfast program at Central School and I look forward to going back on a few more Fridays! We also celebrated the Pillars of the Community and many other volunteers at a banquet hosted by the Whitecourt Star. This community has been built on the backs of many groups and individuals and it is nice to see many of them recognized. Congratulations to everyone in our community for the effort you take in making Whitecourt what it is today and helping to shape it for what it will be tomorrow. The month ended with me attending the Wolverines banquet, another organization whose players spend time on worthwhile causes in our community. Their fundraiser brought back a blast from the past having the Hanson Brothers from the movie Slap Shot in attendance.

As crazy as this month was I was happy to spend time with my kids during reading week – time I will always cherish, enjoy and look forward to!! Being sick for a good part of the month didn’t allow me to be as dedicated to a fitness regime as I had hoped, but looking forward to getting back into a routine in March! For down time, I actually made it to yoga once this month, and got a few quiet evenings with friends and family, so all is good. Somewhere through all of this I did manage to shed another couple of pounds, hope I can keep it up….

So what’s in store for March?….I hope you will check back with me in a month and that you enjoyed February’s read!!

Snowmobile Invasion Parade
Getting ready to ride in a snowmobile parade that had 1044 snowmobilers participate!
Delegate Ride
Some of our guests from Japan getting ready for the delegate ride!!
Boom Chucka Boys
Couldn’t resist this selfie!
Assisted Living Whitecourt Announcement
Honoured to be there for the announcement from MLA VanderBurg for funding towards 50 assisted living beds for Whitecourt!
Pillars of the Community
Recognizing the many volunteers that help make Whitecourt what it is!
A blast from my past with the Hanson Brothers - remember Slap Shot!
A blast from my past with the Hanson Brothers – remember Slap Shot!

Whitecourt in January, 2015

What’s your first year been like as Mayor, I’ve been asked many times by family, friends, the public, along with our local media. I have to say that I have enjoyed the role I’ve played within our Town, it’s hard not to love Whitecourt. As a Council, and as a community we have had many successes in 2014. Whether it’s the introduction of public transit, improving how we communicate with the public, the widening of Dahl Drive, our Winter Park project, new housing for Whitecourt or the potential of a performing arts facility, and the list goes on……it’s been a busy, exciting and successful year! I’m hoping this year to do a monthly blog, letting people know what I’m doing personally and professionally, along with how I’m representing our community, both locally and away. So this is it… the first one, …I’ve never blogged before and am not too sure how this going to go, but here is January………………. I came back to work on January 5th after spending the holiday season with my 2 kids. I found in 2014 that my life did lack a balance between my role as Mayor and my personal time, and this is something I hope to work on this year. My focus is on establishing a fitness routine I can stick to, along with better eating habits…we will see how I do. It’s sometimes difficult when you are eating out a lot not to pack on a few pounds, which I did. Like many Whitecourtians and Canadians, I was glued to the TV for the World Juniors and ecstatic that Canada brought home gold!! Jumping back to work started with our Joint Liaison committee meeting. This committee has representatives from the Town and County and our meetings revolve around joint projects that affect both of our communities. We are also continuing our planning with both school divisions and Norquest College, for the performing arts centre and post-secondary portions of the new learning campus development down in Athabasca Flats, which continues to be an exciting project. I did a quick trip into Edmonton for the 2015 Real Estate Symposium. It was interesting that all panelists felt that oil prices would correct themselves by the 4th quarter and stabilize around the $70-75/barrel mark and that real estate prices would remain stable with perhaps a small increase in the fall of 2015. Another Board I represent Whitecourt on is the Tamarack Health Advisory Council which met this month. This meeting saw a presentation from EMS on ambulance delivery and had a update from the North Zone on our hospital reporting that “the final draft of the Business Case is under review by Alberta Infrastructure and Alberta Health, and is expected to be ready for sign-off in January.” I’m sure our whole community and area is awaiting a positive response back from government on this project. The Youth Committee, which is one of my favourites met on the 12th and again stepping up to the plate, released their recruitment video. They are also excited that Council is reviewing their request to possibly expand the skate park and move our tennis courts down to Rotary Park. If you have youth aged 13-18 that would be interested in participating in this committee, please contact the Town office for an application. This week, both Councils met to discuss the performing arts centre, the general scope of the facility, possible funding options, costs, and follow up with our residents to receive their input and suggestions. Public open houses will be held on February 24th and 25th, stay tuned for more details……………we want and need your feedback!!! I have also been appointed to a provincial Dementia Advisory Panel, which was an interesting meeting and timely in light of the planning of an aging in place community for Whitecourt, which would include space for people affected with forms of dementia, another exciting project being worked on by our planning department. As busy as these weeks have been, so far I’ve been on track with my both my fitness routine (love my fitbit), however my eating habits have faltered on a few days, me bad!!! (but human). I even had a chance to watch the movie “Mocking Jay” with my daughter for all of the Hunger Game fans out there. I loved the movie, but what a dumb spot to end the movie, … but definitely loving forward to the release of part II. Both Mayor Rennie and I met with the Performing Arts Society on January 19th with an update from Council. We presented them with the possible design for the new centre and asked them to be a big part of the upcoming open houses. Our Economic Development committee also met, and reviewed some of the events that will be taking place in the upcoming months and the Town’s involvement with these great events. Through my role on the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association, I flew with our executive to Vancouver to have a meeting with the Alberta Federal caucus on issues that affect municipalities, such as the road blocks encountered on the flow of grant funding, along with the criteria used by the Federal Government. While there, I had the opportunity to also co-present with the forest industry on caribou range planning and emphasized the potential negative impact upcoming plans could have both economically and socially on forest based communities. From there I flew to Calgary for our Board meeting and was able to witness the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between the province and stakeholders that gives a definitive timeline for amendments to be made to the Municipal Governance Act. Although most Albertans could care less about this, it is an important step towards updating a piece of legislation that is over 30 years old. Okay, on to more fun stuff. I was able to do my second RCMP ride-a-long and enjoyed the shift I spent with one of Whitecourt’s finest. It was a quiet night in our community, which I won’t complain about but a great chance to see what Whitecourt is up to on a Friday night! I’m looking forward to my next trip with them…….. We had our first Party in the Park meeting already planning for the September long weekend…..again Whitecourt you will be amazed what we have planned for this year, stay tuned for further announcements!!! Last year Mayor Rennie and I made two trips to Calgary to start a relationship with the oil and gas industry. These meetings allow us to showcase our communities, update them on projects and see what they have going on in our back yard and on our doorstep. This year we completed the first trip to get an economic update from them that we will share at this year’s Chamber Economic Forum being held on March 3rd. Make sure you have your ticket….a fantastic event and this year, their speakers include Pinball Clemons and Barb Stegemann. I was able to attend the open house that was facilitated by the province on the flood study completed for our area. The presentation saw about 30 County and Town residents attend, with lots of good questions asked. For the first time this year, I sent sledding and participated in the media ride on the 30th. What a great event seeing about 70 riders hit the trails to promote our community and the World Sled Invasion which starts on February 11th. This group has lots of events planned for us and the world. If you don’t have your tickets, visit http://www.worldsnowmobileinvasion.com and order them today!!! I finished the month by attending the opening ceremonies for the Taekwondo tournament that saw approximately 1000 people in attendance. I was excited as I received my first degree honorary black belt from the club. I thought that was pretty cool!! After that, I was able to bring greetings from the Town as the Eagle River Casino celebrated their 7th anniversary on the the 31st. Well as you can see, it was a busy month. In spite of everything I’m happy to say I was able to get some visiting in with friends and spent some quality time with my daughter. Believe it or not I actually attended 2 yoga classes and have been sticking to my exercise routine (yikes….let’s hope I keep this up), along with losing 3 pounds, notwithstanding all the meals out. February will be started with the Super Bowl, friends, lots of appetizers and a few beverages. Well this is it folks…..we will talk to you at the end of February when I check in with an update…………..take care and looking forward to seeing everyone out and about around Town!!!