Okotoks taxpayers take hit in Alberta budget
Province: Funding cuts hit provincial water program
By: Don Patterson
| Posted: Wednesday, Mar 13, 2013 06:00 am
Town officials are warning Okotoks homeowners they will see a higher property tax bill this spring and the blame lies squarely with the 2013 provincial budget unveiled last week.
As part of the budget the provincial government is eliminating a program intended to soften the impact of high property values on education taxes. Okotoks was one of 11 Alberta communities covered by the program and according to the Town cutting the program means the education portion of municipal property taxes is going to jump this year.
Okotoks Mayor Bill Robertson said the end of the program will mean the Province will be asking for an additional 17 per cent, which will equate to about a $150 increase in the education property tax on the typical home in town. It’s a significant jump over the $98 increase in 2012. The education requisition will now amount to 35 per cent of an Okotoks homeowner’s total tax bill.
“That’s a huge hit,” he said.
The provincial increase is on top of the $67 hike in the municipal portion of property taxes on the typical home approved by town council in December. The Town is still calculating what the final property tax increase will be this year and council will decide the tax bill this spring.
There could be additional increased costs as Alberta’s municipalities will see less funding for a number of provincial grant programs under the 2013 budget, such as a 17.4 per cent decrease in funding available from the community facility enhancement program. The Province has also cut the municipal water wastewater program by 56 per cent. The Town has looked to both programs over the years to help pay for projects in the community.
The budget could dampen the Town’s hopes for provincial help in buying water licenses.
The Province is also cutting capital funding through the Water Life Strategy by 58 per cent.
The Town has looked to that program as a possible funding source to help cover the costs of buying new water licenses. It has also been a source of funds for water pipeline projects in recent years, including one connecting Calgary and Strathmore.
“There’s going to be less money in the pot now, we’ll have to see how it shakes out,” said Robertson.
Robertson said he still hopes the Province will use what’s left in the program to help the Town buy additional water licenses.
Funding for the Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) will be maintained at 2012 levels of $900 million for the next three years.
Robertson said this won’t impact Okotoks much because the Town has already committed three years worth of MSI funding, from 2012 to 2014, towards its $10 million share of the Foothills-Okotoks Field House. He said the commitment for the next three years means the expected funding will remain intact.
While Okotoks homeowners will pay more for their property taxes, their counterparts in the MD of Foothills could see a small decrease.
The amount the Province is asking for education property taxes from the MD of Foothills decreased by one per cent compared to 2012.
It’s a positive surprise for MD Reeve Larry Spilak who said the MD had expected it to rise. While the MD hasn’t yet calculated what it will mean to residents’ property taxes, he said it will mean a lower tax increase.
“We have to collect on behalf of school boards and if we have to collect less money, then we can charge less money, which works to everybody’s benefit,” he said.
Spilak said he is disappointed to see the Summer Temporary Employment Program cancelled, which will mean the loss of a $12,000 grant the MD used to cover the cost of temporary employment over the summer months.
Ultimately, he said the MD has been responsible when drafting its budget, not expecting any major increases to the MSI program.
“It’s only less in the fact that the scheduled increase will not take place, but most municipalities, at least responsible ones, I’m sure have budgeted according to 2012 funding,” said Spilak.
Black Diamond Mayor Sharlene Brown shares similar concerns as those brought up by her counterparts.
“It’s unfortunate that there’s no increases to municipalities, but there’s no huge slams to municipalities either,” she said.
She said the cut in Water for Life funding could have an impact on the quad regional water partnership and the Town’s plans to upgrade its wastewater treatment plant, which must be done by 2015.
She also said the end of the summer employment program could end up costing the town.
The Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) said cuts in the provincial budget will make it difficult for municipalities facing a $24 billion infrastructure deficit. The organization said long-term, predictable funding is essential for municipalities, or else they won’t be able to keep up with ongoing infrastructure needs and necessary repairs.
AUMA’s vice-president North Darling said tax changes need to be discussed as part of a review of the provincial Municipal Government Act.
“As part of this critical review, we must include taxation reform so that communities are not dependent upon provincial handouts to meet their core responsibilities,” he said.