Wheatland County has $50 million in reserves, which has prompted some community members to ask where that money is or how it is being spent. This was made especially relevant when discussing the potential building of a new seniors' lodge, as some residents asked why the county couldn't simply take $4 million out of the reserves to help fund this project. While council ultimately voted in favour of building the new lodge, Wheatland County CAO Brian Henderson said there's much more behind the scenes than simply taking eight percent of the reserves to fund construction.
Henderson explained around half of the reserves are already set aside for other projects, as $8 million has been set aside for the Lakes of Muirfield and future infrastructure requirements there, while approximately $16 million has been set aside for road maintenance. With additional costs needing to be accounted for, suddenly that $4 million for a lodge may not be as simple to finance as initially thought. Calling the seniors' lodge a great project, Henderson is happy that the County can support it, but said the costs for a project this expensive typically don't come from reserves.
"We do find that new facilities and infrastructure costs related to community growth might be better suited for debt, and that kind of project can just be levied throughout the potential lifespan of that project."
Explaining that "reserves come mainly from the value of current infrastructure, so it's often better to use them for maintaining and renewing existing community infrastructure," Henderson says for long-term financial sustainability, debt may be the way to go.
"It's not that the Council can't use reserves for projects; they just need to consider long-term financial sustainability."
Going back to the reserves, it was previously mentioned that around half the reserves are already allocated, but what about the other half? This money is used primarily on maintaining and repairing current infrastructure, and Henderson said the costs can add up quickly.
"One mile (around 1.6 kilometres) of road might cost around $1,000,000. That could be repaving, that could just be mobilizing contractors to come out and do it using material."
With approximately 2300 kilometres of road to maintain, 280 bridge files, and many underground repairs including sewer pipes, the purpose of reserves is mainly to make sure these operate smoothly and address any emergency situations.
'If we hear a lot of complaints about a road being washed out or needing to repair something like a big leak underground that no one could see, those are the types of things that we need to repair and replace almost immediately."
Henderson added the County also takes financial stewardship of tax dollars very seriously and works to address community concerns, like when they built the Carseland Firehall in 2021, which he called "long overdue."
Every two years the County undertakes a community outreach process to see how residents want the budget shaped through the online platform called Othello. The process was done this year, so the next time it will be done is 2025.
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