County tax rate delayed again

Editor’s Note: The print version of this story contained an editing error that caused a statement by Warden Brian Hall to appear in the opposite context to which it was intended. The sentence has been deleted entirely for clarity. We apologize for the error. -cZ

ATHABASCA – Taxpayers in Athabasca County will have to wait a little longer to find out exactly how much they will pay in taxes for 2022.

Operating and capital budgets are set, but with three councilors holding firm to approve one of the previous three options for the tax rate settlement, the administration will bring another option back to the regular meeting on the 10 May, as the deadline for submitting county financial statements to Municipal Affairs as the year draws to a precarious end.

The 2022 tax rate settlement was again on the agenda for the regular Athabasca County meeting on April 27, but it was clear there would be no approval of the document at come that day, but rather a round table.

With an assessment roll of more than $2.2 billion, the 2022 budget projects expenditures totaling $36,175,648, including $17,658,069 in revenue from sources other than taxation. That leaves $21,820,047 to collect in taxes, and another $626,000 as a result of the proposed minimum tax. Certainly, but the question is how this will be distributed between the types of ownership.

Warden Brian Hall prefaced the discussion with his thoughts.

“I don’t think we’re here to make easy decisions, I think we’re here to make the right decisions for the county and we shouldn’t be making decisions based on what our neighbors are doing, but what is good for our municipality, our situation, our future. Now, of course, we have to be competitive in terms of our tax rate, but we also have to earn enough revenue,” he said.

“We can’t do more with less forever,” Hall said. “Fundamentally, I think it is essential that all taxable properties, down to the last, at some level, make a positive contribution to the operations and financial well-being of the municipality.

Com. Joe Gerlach, Councilor Tracy Holland and Councilor. Gary Cromwell remained opposed, citing the proposed addition of the minimum tax to all parcels of land, a sharp increase in farmland rates, and the lack of a full financial picture to make an informed decision.

Com. Rob Minns said he was fine with a $150 minimum tax, but didn’t like that 75% of the shortfall to balance the operating budget came from increases in farm parcels.

Com. Camille Wallach noted that there are few reserve funds this year and the need to increase staff and services to some extent is a pressure they are facing,

“We have to find the money somewhere,” she said.

Com. Kelly Chamzuk agreed, saying she could also live on the $150 minimum tax.

A motion to direct the administration to prepare a tax rate regulation with a minimum tax of $150, with the remaining budget revenue requirements to be split between 50% farmland, 25% residential, and 25% of non-residential. An amendment to include a sliding minimum scale of $50, $100, and $150 passed 8-1. A vote of 6 to 3 approved this direction to the administration.

Gerlach went on to recommend looking at recreational properties as opposed to farmland for more of a contribution saying, “Our taxes are not misplaced; I think where the problem is is that we had a tax holiday for three or four years…where there was no tax increase, and we fell behind. And I think we should be looking at options to deal with non-agricultural properties that are for recreational services, and those should be taxed at a much higher rate because people aren’t trying to produce anything .

Com. Ashtin Anderson agreed in part, but also noted that the minimum tax Gerlach opposed would also cover the administration costs of preparing tax notices.

Com. Tracy Holland said she wanted more information on the actual financial numbers before agreeing to any proposed tax rate settlements.

“We have to take into account that we really don’t have the appropriate information to take into account and what would be in our reserves? What is our financial situation since the beginning of the year? We haven’t seen those numbers,” she said, adding that she didn’t understand the rush to make such a massive change. “We don’t have solid numbers. We don’t have proper information. I just can’t agree with any of these. I think it’s backwards that we haven’t sat down and discussed our actual numbers.

Gerlach then moved a motion to direct the administration to prepare a tax rate regulation with a scenario to include a zero percent minimum tax and distribute the remainder equally among all property classes, and further to include a minimum tax of $50, $100 and $150. The motion is carried.

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