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Saskatchewan still showing budget surplus despite $150 million for flood costs

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REGINA - Saskatchewan Finance Minister Ken Krawetz says flood costs have not washed away the surplus in the provincial budget.

Krawetz on Thursday released the first-quarter budget update which shows a projected surplus of $75 million — up $3.5 million from the budget forecast. He said that's despite a $150-million allowance to cover the cost of flooding earlier this summer.

"Those claims are not going to be known for a long time, but we felt it was prudent to ensure that we set aside $150 million as the province's share," he said.

Disaster costs are generally shared 60-40 with the federal government. Krawetz hopes the $150 million will cover the province's 40 per cent.

"We looked back at what the province has incurred in the last disaster and we looked at about a $350 (million), $360-million expenditure. We think it may have pretty similar results based on the initial review," he said.

"We know from some ... discussions that have gone on with municipal leaders, with (the Ministry of) Highways, that there will be claims. What they will amount to remains to be seen."

About 100 Saskatchewan communities were under states of emergency after torrential rain caused widespread flooding at the end of June. Farmers in southeast Saskatchewan were among those hardest hit and there are concerns about crop losses.

The $150 million doesn't take into account crop insurance claims. But Krawetz doesn't appear worried about that amount.

"The people in Sask Ag have looked at that and say they believe that even at this point of evaluation, the premiums that sit there already should be there to cover the potential claims."

The added flood costs put total expenses up $165 million from the budget to $14.1 billion.

Total revenue is also up to $14.2 billion in large part because of an increase of $110 million from non-renewable resources.

NDP finance critic Trent Wotherspoon said the numbers don't take into account the $47-million cost of the failed smart meter program at SaskPower.

"The costs of SaskPower — it's a company for which we all have a share in — are ultimately the costs of families and businesses. There's no other payer of those costs," said Wotherspoon.

The province ordered SaskPower to replace all 105,000 installed smart meters after at least nine fires believed related to the devices. The government pegs the replacement tab at $15 million, but the full cost of the program is expected to be $47 million once the defective meters are removed.

SaskPower president Robert Watson has said the company may have to delay some projects to manage expenses, but the cost will be absorbed by the corporation.

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