By Cole Parkinson
A resolution has been decided upon by Vauxhall town council in regard to raising the Fortis franchise fee that is present in town.
The Vauxhall Business Society (VBS) asked for an extension to report to the councillors and they had a chance to come back to present their findings on Oct. 16.
“I’ve mellowed down because I see there is no other way to do this. The discussion I’ve had with Bow River Gas and with ATCO was — in 2012-13, Fortis came out with a new agreement which is pretty bulletproof. There is no chance to have a second provider in town allowed to provide power. Right now for me as a large power user there is a monopoly, I have no option of any savings or to go to somebody else,” said Joerg Klempnauer, president of the VBS and owner of Columbia Seed Co. Ltd.
While the VBS suggested to keep the fee at the two per cent it currently sat at, Klempnauer had another suggestion to keep things even.
“There is a bit of difference between the electricity and the gas, the electricity 100 per cent comes to the town but it sounds like to me that on the gas only half comes to the town and the other goes to the gas company. The short and clear of this was the VBS thinks it should stay where it is or should go to zero but I had another thought,” said Klempnauer.
“To get the full tax or franchise fee out of the people, out of the ones who don’t pay taxes at all, it should actually go up to 20 per cent and taxes on the other end should be reduced.”
Council had actually discussed that possibility before, but they found that it would be a bigger headache than what it was worth.
“We actually debated that last time if we could but you can’t change it from person to person,” said Martin Kondor, former councillor for the Town of Vauxhall.
Mayor Margaret Plumtree reiterated that it wouldn’t be a feasible discussion moving forward.
“The only problem is to try and balance everything in the end to make sure everyone including our not for profits don’t fold up on us. If we go and charge them 20 per cent and knock down the property taxes a not for profit could potentially close in the community because all of a sudden they can’t afford that. Taxes are such a balancing act,” said Plumtree.
Another suggestion to the town was to look into Vauxhall buying their own utilities.
“One thing that came out of this is that because the power and gas companies did not have their assets assessed, the town could actually buy them and run their own utilities like Lethbridge and Calgary did,” said Klempnauer.
Doing this would cost the town quite a bit of money, which council says they do not have as the price would be too rich.
“It’s the same as fibre optic, we could own our own as well if we could afford it. Unfortunately that’s what it comes down to,” said Plumtree.
With the extra money the Town of Vauxhall receives through the franchise fee, Klempnauer says the VBS has no problem paying it as long as it benefits the community.
“The board said they would like to have it stay the same or go to zero which probably isn’t even a discussion point. They also mentioned that if it were to go into roads or infrastructure then they have no problem with it at all,” said Klempnauer.
Council agreed with the VBS with putting money back into infrastructure around Vauxhall as they need help with keeping up.
“For us we knew the arena was a huge repair for us with the pool and everything else. That’s why we wanted to put it towards infrastructure because we definitely needed help with the infrastructure. There really isn’t a whole lot of money to help us out so that’s why it’s earmarked for that,” said Plumtree.
The conversation shifted to whether or not to raise the fee any higher than the current two per cent.
Many weren’t in favour of raising the tax higher because it would put more financial pressure on businesses in town who use lots of power.
“That was the underlying concern here. You’ve got somebody who’s got very large power costs as their business and you don’t want to unfairly penalize them which you would do with a higher fee,” said Richard Phillips, deputy mayor of Vauxhall.
Mayor Plumtree also sits on the VBS board but she says that she kept out of most of the discussions because of her position within Vauxhall.
With a decision looming though, she gave her thoughts which were fairly similar to what the VBS had hoped for.
“I’m fine with keeping it as long as it goes towards something, I don’t want it in general revenue. I think infrastructure is really good for us because that’s where we really hurt the most,” said Plumtree.
The motion put forth for council was to keep the franchise fee the same and put the money towards infrastructure which the council voted in favour of.