This year’s RM of Wallace-Woodworth Financial Plan is positive news for ratepayers beset by COVID-19, however making it happen was a challenge for Council and staff.
“We worked hard on our budget this year,” said Reeve Clayton Canart at last Thursday’s Public Hearing at Tundra Oil & Gas Place in Virden. “With the pandemic still going on one year after our previous meeting, it doesn’t seem like a whole lot has changed, so we tried to keep our spending held at 0% increase to benefit all our ratepayers. We want to thank our staff for the work they put in to try and operate within the budgets they were presented with last year. We’re able to have another decrease in our mill rate this year, which I think we’re all proud to present.”
Chief Administrative Officer Garth Mitchell presented the pre-recorded Financial Plan in detail on the RM’s YouTube channel. He said from an administrative perspective, Council’s direction was clear – hold the line on spending.
"Council came to administration with a mandate of having a 0% increase in non-capital spending in 2021,” he said. "This is a very tight operating plan that is being completed in order to assist our ratepayers. It is not a level of expenditures that can be sustained for a long period of time. We are definitely hoping the pandemic situation improves over the next year.”
The 2020 budget included a 3.2 mill decrease in the municipal mill rate. This year, it will drop by .801 mills. The mill rate for the municipality at large is down from 14.758 mills in 2019 to 10.749 mills in 2021.
The municipality benefitted from an overall assessment increase of 7.53%, with Wards 1 and 2, Elkhorn and Kenton each showing slight jumps. “This reflects the increase in personal property that caused the large amount of added taxes in 2020,” Mitchell said.
He explained that significant cost savings have been realized due to the suspension of in-person meetings, as well as travel outside of the area. A total of $9,951.25 went to Council expenses in 2020, with only $100 being spent on convention attendance.
“Despite the COVID-19 problems in 2020, these committees were still required to meet and had to do so by virtual format, which was a challenge. I commend them for doing an excellent job,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell explained that the municipality is fortunate to be in a strong financial position. This includes a nominal surplus of just over $9.8 million as of the end of 2019. “$7.9 million of our surplus is directly attributed towards excess funding received through the oil industry,” Mitchell said. “We have had the luxury of enjoying it from 2015 through 2019.”
A balanced budget is proposed, with revenue of $9.3 million. The largest portion of that, $5.5 million, will come from taxes and grants, while transfers from reserves and surplus will make up $1.1 million.
The RM maintains a number of reserves to fund capital projects, and plans call for dollars to be drawn from eight of them in the year ahead. As an example, a $350,000 contribution will assist the RM of Maryfield, Sask. with the cost of replacing a bridge near the boundary with Wallace-Woodworth. Mitchell explained that this payment is honoring a funding agreement which was negotiated with the former RM of Wallace prior to amalgamation. However, changes are in the offing.
"During discussions on the possibilities and options on this bridge, Council felt that a one-time payment in the amount of $350,000 would cover the RM's portion of the project,” he said. “The Boundary Road agreement will be reworked, which will remove the bridge structure from the existing funding split. Any funding of bridges or other capital assets off the Boundary Road will have to be done by a separate agreement in the future between the two municipalities.”
Projects included in the 2021 capital budget include:
- Construction of an addition to the Woodworth Fire Department station in Kenton, estimated cost of $100,000. The new space will house the rescue unit the department has purchased from the Town of Moosomin.
- Purchase of an electronic sign, which will be used as a community message board, promoting events and happenings in and around Elkhorn. The project, now in the works, is estimated at $70,000.
- Establishment of a new lift station, waste water lagoon and force main in Elkhorn, funded in part from reserves and the borrowing of approximately $320,200.
Mitchell explained that the water utility, now into its second year, is currently operating at a deficit, with efforts focused on finding and addressing a significant amount of water loss. The five-year capital plan, as funds become available, includes a proposed third supply well, expansion of distribution to Elkhorn and Lenore, and infrastructure upgrades in Kola.
Following the Public Hearing, which was attended by only two ratepayers, Council gave second and third reading to the Financial Plan during a brief special meeting.