By Cole Parkinson
The Municipal District of Taber is continuing to garner support for their opposition against proposed Alberta government changes to their assessment model.
At Vauxhall town council’s regular meeting on Aug. 17, M.D. councillors brought their issues with the changes to Vauxhall to garner council’s interest in joining in lobbying efforts.
“Basically we are here to make you aware of what the government of Alberta is proposing to do with the assessment model for regulated properties such as oil/gas wells, pipelines, machinery and equipment,” explained M.D. Reeve Merrill Harris. “As well as outline the implications this will have for the M.D. as well as our municipal partners. The government of Alberta is proposing to change the way they do assessments in that category, as a result of that, the M.D. could lose as much as $400 million of their assessment base.”
“That translates between $3.1 and $4.1 million drop in revenue for the M.D. and that’s what would happen in year one. Possibly higher reductions and assessments in the following years could greatly reduce municipal revenues. It would be necessary for us to raise residential tax rates approximately 130 per cent and the non-residential rates up to 55 per cent to make up the shortfall that will happen in year one,” continued Harris.
With less money available in the budget if these changes become official, the M.D. will need to adjust their tax rates.
“Raising tax rates to offset the impacts of the assessment model change will have the effect of simply transferring taxes from industry to other businesses and residents. This assessment model will force municipalities to enact a reduction in service levels and inter-municipal collaboration agreements as the tax increases are not realistic. These changes will impact not only the M.D. but in fact the entire region. As you are probably aware, over the last couple of years, the M.D. has had to write off around $5 million worth of uncollected taxes, largely from the oil and gas industry as some companies are simply choosing not to pay their taxes. There is nothing in the Alberta legislation that has teeth to force companies to pay their taxes,” continued Harris.
The M.D. has been very vocal in their opposition and had already met with Taber town council, who carried a motion to issue a letter of support.
As they continue to make the rounds to local council’s located within the M.D., they have been making it apparent that the issue will be affecting everyone, not just the M.D. of Taber.
“I believe it is in the Town of Vauxhall’s best interest to review the details of what is being proposed and lobby and/or advocate through the channels available to you to help us stop the changes. Things such as senior’s housing will be affected. The amount each municipality is requisitioned is based on assessment. A $400 million drop in the M.D.’s assessment base will change the amount the Town of Taber, the Town of Vauxhall and the Village of Barnwell will need to contribute in this situation,” said Harris. “Other scenarios for us will be cuts to level of service the M.D. provides its citizens, as well as potential clawbacks on the transfers to our urban neighbours. When we are faced with a $3-$4 million drop in our budget on top of another $1 or $2 million in unpaid taxes again this year, everything will be on the table. Basically, we are asking our urban neighbours to advocate and lobby their MLAs and through the AUMA to draw attention to the unintended consciences these changes may have to the Town of Vauxhall.”
Vauxhall council was in agreeance with moving forward with lobbying efforts alongside the M.D.
“We’ve been seeing over the years of downloading onto M.D.s, counties, municipalities and those are going to start having some dire consequences. With us all so interconnected, stuff that happens to the M.D. of Taber, whether it’s positive or negative, will definitely affect the rest of the region,” said Mayor Margaret Plumtree. “I agree we have to assist each other in advocacy.”
On top of the assessment model changes, additional costs are coming for municipalities in the form of the updated policing model.
For Vauxhall, year one of the policing model sees them paying $20,787, $31,203 in year two, $41,574 in year three and $62,406 in years four and five.
The M.D. meanwhile are scheduled to pay $194,241 in year one, $291,570 in year two, $388,481 in year three and $583,139 in years four and five.
“There’s also police costing coming at us. We may be able to absorb some of this over time, but such a big drop all of a sudden is pretty hard to take at one time. I know we need to help the oil sector to get themselves going again but perhaps there are other policy options or something that they can look at besides an assessment model change that will help the industry get back on their feet. As you mentioned, this is a huge drop in revenue for the M.D.” said Harris.
“We (RMA) actually presented three or four alternative ways of doing this initially. Basically, we are asking to go back to the drawing board because assessment is not the way to be trying to fix short term issues. Assessment should be fair and equitable for everyone. We are a little afraid to open up the door where whenever we have an issue, we start playing with taxes to help businesses out, it could be a slippery slope,” added Coun. Brian Brewin. “With the new police model that they are looking at, that is also assessment based. With the decrease in our assessment, it will in-turn increase our price for other municipalities.”
Brewin also highlighted that nearby municipalities including County of Newell and Cypress County are going to be heavily affected.
“It is province-wide, but some of the harder hit (municipalities) are right here close to home,” added Brewin.
A motion to accept the delegation as information was carried.