By Cole Parkinson
Town of Vauxhall residents will see a bump in Fortis franchise fees coming in the near future.
The Fortis franchise fee had been set at two per cent for the past several years but council explored raising the fee at their regular meeting held on October 16.
“We have been doing a two per cent fee, which brings us in $16,115. We can continue doing this and the money does go to infrastructure. We can go back to zero or one of the things I was wondering if council wanted to consider, we still haven’t done the paving at the hall or pool area and we have a lot of functions there. The asphalt that is there isn’t even worth it anymore. I was wondering if we would be interested in raising the fee and putting that money specifically towards paving that area,” said Mayor Margaret Plumtree.
The franchise fee is calculated as a percentage of delivery charges and not on the retail charges. Plumtree specifically pointed to the paving as a potential project the funds could go towards though she did state she would only want to see new pavement at the pool and hall area.
“The curling and arena side is mostly done in the winter time, the ground is usually all frozen. I don’t think it’s that big of a deal, whereas the hall area would be way more worth the funds,” she explained.
Another concern raised by council on the area was the lack of lighting. With limited lighting on the property, some on council felt adding more lighting should also be explored.
“I think there should be some parking lot lighting that should be looked at because it is really, really dark,” said Coun. Ray Coad.
Council explored a couple different numbers starting with a raise to 10 per cent, which was the highest they were willing to go. With a 10 per cent increase, the town would see $82,987 coming their way but councillors stated their desire to not raise the fee by that much. A concern was around business owners in the area who use a large amount of electricity.
“That has always been my concern with this. It is a relative chicken way for council to generate taxes without it looking like taxes,” said Deputy Mayor Richard Phillips. “ We just ask, essentially, for someone else to levy a tax and we take it without looking like the bad guy, it is Fortis who looks like the bad guy in people’s mind. It is money to us but it can potentially be an unfair level, especially for industrial users who have large electrical consumption. We just look at us as residents whether you pay it to the town, pay it to Fortis to pay to the town but if you have an industry that uses a lot, which we might, you hit them unfairly which is my concern with high fees.”
Plumtree though stated the franchise fee does bring some advantage.
“It allows us to tax those that we can’t tax, that’s the one advantage it brings to us,” she explained.
While a bump up to four per cent was discussed last year during franchise fee discussions, council once again looked at that possibility.
Raising the franchise fee to four per cent would bring in just over $32,000 for the town.
Nearby municipalities also use Fortis franchise fees, as the Town of Taber still uses a 20 per cent franchise fee while the Town of Bow Island has an 8.5 per cent franchise fee, and the City of Brooks has theirs set at 12.63 per cent.
“Four per cent isn’t that big but I would be terribly opposed to 10 or 20 per cent,” added Phillips.
A motion was made to raise the franchise fee to four per cent with the money allocated for infrastructure and was passed with a 6-1 vote.
Coun. Kim Cawley opposed the motion.