Correction: A mistake appeared in the Aug. 13 edition of the East Central Alberta Review. On page 3 in the story “Reeves tell MLA…” in the last column, quotes attributed to M.D. of Provost Reeve Allan Murray and administrator Tyler Lawrason were mixed up. Readers should attribute Lawrason’s quotes to Murray and vice-versa. Our apologies for any confusion.
The UCP government’s plan to cut oil and gas industry property taxes isn’t going over very well in the areas that apparently will be expected to pay the difference: rural Alberta.
Drumheller-Stettler MLA Nate Horner hosted a town hall meeting Aug. 4 in the Stettler Community hall to meet with elected officials and staff from all of the rural municipalities in his constituency, plus a few close friends.
One message was repeated by all of the reeves who spoke: the oil and gas assessment review is moving too fast, was too secretive and is unfairly targeting rural Albertans.
The MLA stated the assessment review is offering four options for reducing local tax burden on oil and gas properties.
Horner stated that as far as he is concerned there’s still plenty of time for rural Alberta to give input on the review.
“I’m looking at this like this is the beginning, not the end,” said Horner.
The meeting was organized by Stettler County, and their Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Yvette Cassidy and Reeve Larry Clarke were the first to speak.
Cassidy stated the option most favoured by the oil and gas industry could cut oil and gas property taxes by another 20 per cent on top of other cuts the industry also received.
“It’s pretty devastating to the County of Stettler,” said Cassidy, who said the county is already dealing with millions of dollars in bad debt from the oil and gas companies that own property in the county.
The CAO and Reeve listed departments which might be reduced or eliminated if the assessment review becomes reality: satellite fire departments, recreation agreements with towns, FCSS, recycling, snow plowing, physician recruitment, STARS air ambulance, grass mowing, weed spraying and ditch cutting.
Steve Wannstrom, reeve of Starland County stated he was concerned about excessive tax breaks given to international corporations operating in Alberta while Starland County’s revenue has dropped one-third in a couple of years.
“We’re in a tough position,” said Wannstrom.
He stated the provincial government should first try to find savings in its own operations before dropping a huge tax burden on rural communities.
CAO of Paintearth County Michael Simpson stated the municipality is looking at about $1 million in budget cuts.
Simpson stated if Paintearth loses that much revenue, the council will have to look at cuts to recreation, campgrounds, physician recruitment, FCSS, libraries, economic development, the landfill authority, Ag Services Board and seniors lodges.
Horner responded that no decision has been made on the assessment review and no elected official has been involved in the process yet.
Jordan Christianson, chair of the Special Areas board stated the municipality is facing a loss of $6 million in revenue, and a large part of the Special Areas assessment is based on oil and gas property tax.
He said the Special Areas board spoke last week about options if the assessment review becomes reality, and stated the board feels the mill rate is probably the best solution.
He stated the industrial mill rate would be increased from about 13 to about 30.
The M.D. of Provost Administrator Tyler Lawrason and Reeve Allan Murray both spoke.
Lawrason stated the assessment review will have an impact on the M.D., and stated he was concerned oil and gas companies appear to be claiming municipal taxes are killing their industry.
Lawrason stated the M.D. would have a very difficult time maintaining infrastructure if energy industry taxes were cut severely.
Reeve Murray, who is also a Rural Municipalities Association (RMA) representative to the assessment review, stated the review ran up to 2019 with no municipal involvement at all, just the provincial government and corporations.
He also stated the corporations are claiming municipal taxes are their biggest threat to viability but also noted unpaid oil and gas industry taxes was an issue that was off the table.
“I have never seen a bigger charade in my life,” said Murray.
While Ponoka County isn’t in Horner’s constituency, Reeve Paul McLauchlin is also an RMA representative to the assessment review and had quite a bit to say.
McLauchlin stated oil and gas royalties in Alberta have been frozen for 10 years and are among the lowest in North America.
McLauchlin finished by adding that oil and gas companies that don’t pay their taxes shouldn’t be licensed to operate in Alberta.
Horner closed the meeting by stating that once the assessment review consultation is over, the United Conservative Party (UCP) cabinet will vote on it.
Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative reporter