Highwood MLA says no to new municipal taxes

Province: Wildrose proposes new funding plan for towns, cities

By: Don Patterson

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Feb 19, 2014 06:00 am

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Highwood’s MLA announced last week her party does not support a proposal allowing municipalities to levy new taxes, but has a plan for handing out provincial dollars to towns and cities that would see more funding come their way.

In response, Municipal Affairs Minister Ken Hughes said he would consider allowing Albertans to have a say on new municipal taxes in plebiscites while foothills leaders say new taxes aren’t needed.

Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith said new taxes would only hurt Alberta families.

“When we look at the tax proposals that have been floated in the past, all of them hit middle class families particularly hard, whether it’s doubling the amount they pay for vehicle registration or adding hundreds of additional dollars to their fuel bill because of fuel taxes or a $4,000 hit if there’s a property transfer tax,” she said.

The Wildrose Party proposes giving 10 per cent of tax revenues to municipalities in a new Community Infrastructure Transfer and give municipalities an additional 10 per cent of any potential budget surplus in the future.

“The vast, vast bulk of capital funding should be delivered in a systematic, predictable way through the kind of program that we’re proposing,” said Smith.

She said earmarking 10 per cent of surplus funds for municipalities would also serve as an incentive for the Province to maintain a surplus.

“We think it’s actually in keeping with what Albertans want and expect from their government,” said Smith.

The Party believes its proposal would see municipalities receive more than what they currently get under existing systems of grant programs like the Municipal Sustainability Initiative and the Green Trip Transit Fund. The party argues municipalities would receive $1.97 billion under its plan in 2015-16, compared to $1.49 billion it says they would receive under existing programs.

Smith said the way grants have been given to municipalities in the past is unpredictable.

“It changes yearly, you have to win the lottery to get your proposal picked and we think there’s a better way to do it,” she said.

She said her party’s proposal would give municipalities consistent, predictable funding so they will know what to expect to receive.

She said there could still be additional grant programs for significant projects of a regional nature, such as commuter rail systems connecting foothills communities to Calgary, water pipelines or flood mitigation infrastructure.

Municipal affairs minister Ken Hughes said last week he is open to holding plebiscites on potential new taxes by municipalities.

Municipal affairs spokesperson Cam Traynor said the minister’s comments refer to discussions on a new big city charter. He said the minister hasn’t gotten into too much detail on the idea or plebiscites yet, except to say any potential plebiscites couldn’t apply to any existing forms of taxation, such as property taxes.

“He’s still talking that this is something he’s open to discuss, but there won’t obviously be a lot of details,” he said.

He said the new big city charter that the Province is working on with the cities of Calgary and Edmonton may include provisions on revenues.

Okotoks mayor Bill Robertson said he ultimately supports predictable stable funding from year to year is important for municipalities to be able to plan over the long-term.

“If that figure fluctuates then it’s hard to plan ahead,” he said.

Robertson said Okotoks has several infrastructure needs it will rely on provincial funding to help pay for and Okotoks would still be able to get its fair share of provincial funding, regardless of who’s in office.

He said he doesn’t see the Town using plebiscites to implement new taxes.

MD Reeve Larry Spilak said MD council wouldn’t support any new taxes or allowing municipalities to levy new taxes.

“I suppose that the larger municipalities such as Calgary do require more taxation, in our case, we’re very efficient with the moneys we get, and as far as I’m concerned we have no reason to request additional ways of taxing our landowners,” he said.

If plebiscites were used to approve new taxes, Spilak said it would at least give people a chance to have a say.


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