Big Lakes County will maintain essential services despite cuts

County facing $8 million in bad debts

Richard Froese
For the Lakeside Leader

Big Lakes County has cut some funding to neighbouring municipalities and called off cost of living and wage increases in its recently-approved $35 million 2020 operating budget.

“This budget is going to take us back to the basics,” said CAO Jordan Panasiuk at council’s April 29 meeting. “We want to keep our essential services intact.”

Council and administration wrestled to draft a budget in the face of an economic downturn. It includes over $8 million in bad debts, write-offs and contingencies.

“We hope the tax payment plan will help some,” said the county’s director of corporate services Heather Nanninga.

Cuts to neighbouring municipalities include capital grants of $1.128 million to the Town of High Prairie and $817,000 to the Town of Swan Hills.

However an operating grant of $950,000 to High Prairie will be paid as usual.

Big Lakes employees will not get any raises any time soon. The decision will save the county about $60,000.

“We discussed it with our staff committee and they understand and support it,” Nanninga told council.

Nanninga added that several summer positions will not be filled in 2020, and hamlet workers will do more mowing and summer maintenance.

Recreation grants to community groups have been cut (by 10 per cent), as programs and gatherings of more than 15 people are prohibited during the pandemic.

“We don’t believe they would be able to spend that anyway,” said Panasiuk.
Grants for community halls, however, are not affected.

Grading roads may take a little longer under the new budget.

“We’ll still cover all the roads,” director of public works Vic Abel told council. “We want to eliminate a grader.”

Economic development has also been scaled back, as has the Family and Community Support Services budget.

“We decreased one hamlet outreach worker and scaled back the rural transportation program,” Nanninga said.

Other key figures in the county budget include nearly $4 million in withdrawals from reserves, debt repayment of $472,000, contribution to operating reserve of $52,000 and $8.6 million in amortization.

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