The town's 2023-25 budget is expected to be approved at the Dec. 12 town council after councillors had one final opportunity for input at its Dec. 5 committee-of-whole meeting.
Reflecting changes made during council's budget deliberations, property taxes are expected to increase 3.7 per cent, net growth. The original draft called for a 7.55 per cent increase.
A discussion is to follow on setting new utility rates for storm sewer, water, and wastewater that will could potentially double the amount of the increase being faced by property owners. Should utilities be increased by the recommended amount, it means a hypothetical average home assessed at about $495,000 would see face a total annual increase of $182.64 in 2023. Of that, $92.04 would be in property taxes.
Using that same average home scenario, of the $3,852 collected in property taxes, $2,579 is for the town, $1,249 for education, and $24 for the Rocky View Foundation for seniors housing.
The ability to decrease the tax increase was largely based upon utilizing $751,000 from the anticipated town budget surplus from 2022 and raising the anticipated revenue from safety codes permit fees and planning and development fees.
That is in addition to the $500,000 being taken from the tax stabilization reserve, with replenishing contributions beginning in 2025, outlined in the budget draft.
Other reductions were realized by delaying the hiring of two new administrative positions and a new RCMP member.
The size of town council's operating budget was reduced by $25,000 to correct input errors and a proposed $20,000 increase for the production of the gift guide was eliminated.
In its final review, council made one nominal change. It supported increasing the number of new solar-powered lit crosswalks to three from two. The cost for installation is approximately $10,000 per unit.
Willows residents have made a case to council for one of those crosswalks to be in their neighbourhood, but exactly where the crosswalks will be established have yet to be determined.
Councillor Morgan Nagel also lobbied for the town to purchase more Christmas lights.
Admitting it may seem like the 'weirdest' request, deputy mayor Morgan Nagel wants to see Cochrane shine during the holiday season.
"I really want Cochrane to be the Christmas light experience in all of Alberta."
Councillor Alex Reed says town administration made a sacrifice by accepting a lower cost of living adjustment (COLA). The budget calls for a 3.5 per cent COLA increase for non-unionized staff. Year-over-year in October, the cost of living in Alberta was estimated to have increased by 6.8 per cent.
"To me, that's an indication of the sacrifice administration is proposing that the town employees will make to recognize the kind of challenges that members of our community our facing."
The mayor and town councillors will receive the same 3.5 per COLA increase.
The discussion on utility increases will follow the approval of the budget. It typically in the past has been part of budget deliberations but a more detailed discussion is required. Town CAO Mike Derrciott defined it as a significant service delivery change.
"There's a pretty significant set of variables that are being considered as part of that," explains Derricott. "Some of it is ensuring appropriate investment in future rehabilitation replacement, some of it is a reflection of Cochrane's unique water system in terms of pumping water up and down hills, etc. and some of it is a reflection of inflationary pressure. So, it is a suite of those pieces that we want to ensure council has a full understanding of."