In Saskatchewan’s rural municipalities, gas prices cause budget woes

·2 min read

As gas prices continue to rise across the country, Saskatchewan’s rural municipalities are feeling the pinch.

RMs are responsible for road maintenance, ditch mowing and bridge repair within their jurisdiction — which takes a lot of gas-powered machinery.

According to RM Administrators’ Association of Saskatchewan president Guy Lagrandeur, “every RM has at least two graders, alongside backhoes, gravel trucks and front-end loaders that use substantial amounts of fuel.”

Ray Orb, president of the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM) said local administrators had raised concerns about the cost of fuel as early as this winter.

“Many RMs were already spending a lot of time on snow removal, because we had so much snow and so many storms,” said Orb. “Our grader operators were out there, sometimes, day and night — and on the weekends as well.

“And as the winter progressed and went into spring, the gas and diesel prices just kept going up.”

Now, as national average gas prices rose above $2 per litre over the weekend, SARM is asking the federal and provincial governments to cut taxes on fuel to help bring the cost back down.

“There are so many taxes … where, if they were to reduce some of those taxes for the short term or medium term, it would certainly make a difference,” said Orb.

Those include the federal carbon tax, the federal and provincial excise taxes, and the GST.

“We’re hoping at both levels, the government can agree to this,” he said.

In Orb’s own RM of Cupar fuel normally takes up about 10 per cent of the budget.

“We actually increased (our spending on fuel) by 60 per cent over what it was last year, and I think a lot of RMs will have done something similar from that,” said Orb.

For RMs, paying for increasingly expensive gas this summer is doubly difficult: The vast majority have already set their budget and tax rates for the year, and RMs are not allowed to budget for a deficit.

To find the money, Orb worries RMs may have no choice but to cut back on road maintenance. But that can cause its own set of problems.

“Road maintenance has a regular kind of routine — they need to maintain so many miles every day, and if they don't do that, things can get into a state of disrepair,” said Orb.

And if RMs do need to raise taxes on residents next year, whether to increase the fuel budget, make up for delayed road maintenance or pay back a loan, that will be hard for some taxpayers to shoulder.

“We still have a large part of the province that is very dry and in a drought situation,” said Orb. “So we know that, in some cases, ratepayers might already be under some duress.”

Julia Peterson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The StarPhoenix

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