By Cole Parkinson
The Municipal District of Taber is concerned about changes potentially being brought to the assessment model for regulated projects such as oil and gas wells/pipelines.
With the government of Alberta announcing these proposed changes that would lower the assessed value of regulated properties, it would mean they would pay less municipal and school tax which would negatively affect many municipalities.
M.D. of Taber council originally discussed this issue in a special meeting closed session on July 30 where a motion was passed to direct administration to organize meetings with the local MLAs and to provide council with a review of the proposed assessment model changes and the potential implications for the M.D. of Taber.
The issue was in front of council again in open session at their regular meeting on Aug. 11.
“I’ve talked to most Reeves in our surrounding municipalities — Dan Hamilton from Cypress, Steve Wikkerink from Forty-Mile, Randy Taylor from Warner, Molly Douglass from Newell and Jason Schneider from Vulcan. Everyone has been trying to have meetings with their MLAs, some have been successful up to this point and some have not. Everyone’s not sure where we go from here,” explained Reeve Merrill Harris. “Everyone I have talked to is totally against this.”
Estimates for financial impacts to the M.D. of Taber have been labelled for a loss of between $3,138,090 and $4,084,517, between 13-17 per cent of its total revenue.
To make up that potential shortfall, the municipality could be required to increase the residential tax rate by between 100 per cent and 130 per cent and increase the non-residential tax rate by between 36.2 per cent and 52.8 per cent.
The question around if they wanted to bring lobbying efforts to Foothills-Little Bow Association or if they wanted to continue as a group of municipalities was also brought forward.
In speaking with Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter, M.D. council is hoping their message of dislike is resonant at the provincial level.
“I think Grant understood our reservations or our dislike of this proposed change,” said Harris.
Sitting on the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) board, Coun. Brian Brewin explained that organization was also looking for direction from municipal councils.
“I think a lot of it was to contact the local MLAs to give them first crack to find out what they know and see if they are in support or not,” added Brewin.
The M.D. has also brought forward this issue to other municipal councils located within the M.D. as they were at the Town of Taber and the Town of Vauxhall’s meetings on Aug. 17 and then the Village of Barnwell.
“I think if we could get a joint letter between all of the small towns within our municipality, that would help. It certainly will affect them on requisitions when it comes to community housing. The new police servicing (model) is based on assessment so there will be an increase there. There is going to be some unittended consequences there,” continued Brewin.
With RMA working on this issue, a question was asked around if they had also teamed up with the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA).
“My understanding is that RMA and AUMA are both opposed to this change. Have either one, or both of them together, had an opportunity to meet with the Premier to discuss the dissatisfaction of this issue?” asked Coun. John Turcato.
“RMA has been unable to meet with the Premier yet, although we do have a request asking but to my knowledge, we haven’t heard anything back,” replied Brewin.
The need to inform the larger municipalities on the impacts that will trickle down to them if these changes were to be made official has been a priority for rural municipalities.
“We thought our urban neighbours needed to understand what the implications of the $3-$4 million loss of revenue in our municipality would mean for their municipality. We have asked for some time at their council meetings and getting some numbers together on what it might do to housing assessment and housing requisition if our assessment goes down,” stated Harris. “This is not the right way to help the oil companies. There has to be a better taxation method that will solve the problem they think there is without dumping it on the backs of municipalities.”
With plenty of options to move forward with, the floor was open for councillors to suggest how they wanted to continue with advocacy against the proposed changes.
“I would hate to not use the Foothills Little Bow vehicle. It’s already there and Newell has the motion so, why wouldn’t we just keep coming at them? MLA Hunter mentioned that perhaps we need a suggestion and a solution, and I hate to put that on our assessor, but I wonder if he has any thoughts he could provide us. Maybe not today, but as we go forward so we have a solution and not just saying we don’t like it,” said Coun. Tamara Miyanaga.
The idea of putting out a press release was also broached as a way to get the information out to M.D. residents.
“I think it would be wise to have a press release so constituents understand what municipalities will be faced with across the province. Right now, it seems to be on a municipal level where the everyday joe may not understand what’s going on. At the same time, that is where the impact is going to be felt the most. If we have those citizens engaging with their MLAs and not just elected officials, that could have some impact as well,” stated Deputy Reeve Jen Crowson.
“Whether it is $3.1 or $4.1 million, it’s a huge hit to the municipality and life will be different, if we want to maintain the service levels we have now. If we maintain the same budget, taxation on a home, on a farm and everything else will go through the roof,” added Harris.
With a potential of a $3-$4 million hit to the M.D. budget, if the proposed changes were made official, it was pointed out the amount of unpaid taxes on oil/gas sites also factor in to their budget.
“It’s also the unpaid taxes upwards of $2 million from last year, too. We’re closer to $5-$6 million. It’s very large and I think we have to get that information out to hopefully force the government’s hand to not make these changes,” said Coun. Leavitt Howg.
The M.D. of Taber put out a press release on Aug. 17, which can be read at mdtaber.ab.ca.