A surplus at the end of 2023/24 is helping to offset the Town of Altona's expenses for the coming year.
Council has approved an $11.9 million budget for 2024/25, a 12.8 per cent increase in year-over-year spending.
Mayor Harv Schroeder noted, however, the taxpayer is not on the hook for all of that, with $2.9 million, or 19 per cent of the budget, coming from reserves.

"Basket funding was doubled by the (provincial) government, and then towards the middle to the end of the season we got a provincial grant, a general operating grant, and also a police grant which gave us a number somewhere around $800,000-plus. And so, we put that away into the reserves and those reserves are now getting used for this year and a lot of the new areas that we want to spend some high dollars."

One of those areas is road improvements throughout town at a cost of $1.2 million. 

"The last time monies were put into our own streets, it's been a few years," said Schroeder. Public Works had an engineer come through our community a few years ago and give us a priority one, priority two (list). And so, right now we're looking at the priority ones and I know there's probably more, but we can't do it all in one year." 

Streets being considered for improvements, consisting of mill and fill work similar to what was done on Main Street last year, include 1st St. NW, 1st St. SE, 1st St. SW, 2nd St. SE, 2nd St. SW and part of 4th St. SW.

Tenders will be going out shortly and Schroeder hopes a lot of this work can get done with money that's being set aside. 

Debt payments from the Millenium Exhibition Centre construction and Rhineland Pioneer Centre renovation have also come off the Town's books and Schroeder says they'll be reinvesting those annual payments into infrastructure as well. 

As for other capital projects and initiatives slated for 2024/25, Council is spending $550,000 on further phase 1 construction of the industrial/business park expansion, and $258,500 for upgrades to the Millenium Exhibition Centre (MEC) and Rhineland Pioneer Centre, including the curling club which the Town recently has taken over. That work consists of installing a generator at the Pioneer Centre in order to keep it running while it operates as an emergency reception centre during disasters, and paying for the new electric Zamboni that has arrived. The cost of those two items is carried over from last year's budget and are not new spending for 24/25. 

$150,000 in new money is slated for upgrades to the Altona Cemetery, located on Highway 30 south of town, including the installation of a columbarium. The plan is to also improve the road through the cemetery, hopefully top it with asphalt if the budget allows. 

$140,500 will go to pay for the Town's half of a down payment on a new mini pumper truck for Altona/Rhineland Emergency Services. The other half of the bill will be covered by the Municipality of Rhineland. 

Additional spending includes upgrading a washroom at the Centennial Park for accessibility, and maintenance at the Aquatic Centre and Buffalo Creek Nature Park. As always, money is being set aside for pathway work. This year, the grass trail from McKinley Cove to 2nd St. SW will be upgraded to a hard surface. $120,000 will be spent to redo the shingles, and possibly the siding, at the Schwartz House at Gallery in the Park.

As for what this all means for your tax bills, they'll be increasing 2.19 per cent. On a $200,000 home, that's $76, and on a commercial property valued at $200,000, that's $106. 

"We're just thankful for reserves," said Schroeder. "We know we need to use them, and we also need to put money away."

Meanwhile, you can listen to Reporter Candace Derksen, in conversation with Mayor Harv Schroeder, in this month's In the Mayor's Chair, below.

See below for the Town's public budget presentation.