Reeve of Starland County Steve Wannstrom was one of 17 county representatives at a meeting with the new Minister of Municipal Affairs Tracy Allard in Stettler to discuss the linear tax assessment review.
The review has been controversial and many rural municipalities are poised to have to substantially raise taxes to make up a shortfall with the reduction of linear assessments. For Starland, this could mean losing nearly 40 per cent of its operating revenue.
“She (Allard) listened, I don’t know if she heard 100 per cent,” said Wannstorm. “I will give her the benefit of the doubt. I appreciate the fact that she actually came out to hear us.”
“It was a pretty good meeting, people made it pretty clear where we stand.”
Allard said in a Facebook post following the meeting, “I recognize the importance of this issue and will continue to travel our province, meet with our local leaders, and hear their thoughts and concerns.”
Under the review, there were four proposed scenarios that could be implemented. Wannstrom said she took the fourth possible scenario off the table, which would see Starland’s County’s revenue reduced by an estimated $3.1 million. He said scenarios 1-3 are still very damaging.
“That didn’t give us great comfort,” he said.
According to an information sheet from Starland County using a mixed-use farm with 17 quarters (some leased grazing) and a residence with a total assessment of $615,000 as an example. Under current taxation, this farmer would pay $5,843.34. Under the scenarios listed by the province, this farmer would be paying anywhere between $10,000 and $7,000 more per year.
Wannstrom said he appreciated there was support at the meeting from leaders of towns and villages.
Starland County passed its budget earlier this year with several reductions, including reductions to its full time and seasonal staff. The county also suspended its road construction and bridge repair programs. Starland has 122 bridges. Administration was able to find about $4 million in savings.
“We’re just getting by, we can’t really sustain any more cuts to those numbers because we are not moving forward, we are just idle,” he said. ”We can’t cut much more.”
One issue he says that has been overlooked in these discussions is there are no mechanisms in place that compel resource operators to pay taxes. Starland was put in a difficult situation when Trident Exploration ceased operations, failing to cover its tax bill for two years.
“We did address it with the new minister. ‘You need to make sure that these guys pay their taxes to do business in Alberta,’” he said. “We are not even a creditor in the oil and gas industry.”
He is grateful for the work of MLA Nate Horner.
“My opinion is he is trying very hard, he has been organizing meetings and has been in contact with me and council… he’s making an effort.”