Some tax rates increase, one decreases for Forestburg

Property tax - stock image
Written by Terri Huxley

Forestburg council set the tax rates for 2020.

The village saw a loss of $1,148,180 in residential assessment and a loss of $36,440 in non-residential assessment.

Some of the highlights included zero changes to the minimum tax ($750 per parcel) or non-residential municipal tax rate; a 0.5 per cent increase in residential municipal tax rate, a one per cent increase in the residential school tax rate, a 4.5 per cent increase in non-residential school tax rate and a 16.2 per cent decrease in Flagstaff Housing tax rate.

The changes to the tax rates will result in average residential taxes decreasing by $30 and the average non-residential taxes increased by $24.

The province has mandated that municipalities defer 50 per cent of the non-residential school taxes for six months between April 1 and Sept. 30, 2020.

Administration has amended the tax rate bylaw to include a tax due date of Sept. 30, 2020, which will allow for the six-month 50 per cent deferral of these school taxes.

In the past, taxes were due on Aug. 15 of each year.

Administration felt that all property owners in Forestburg are suffering due to the COVID-19 pandemic and felt it was fair that the extension be granted to all properties.

CAO Moffat, in her report, stated that their financial software does not allow for deferring penalties on a portion of taxes, so this would need to be done manually which opens the system up to errors.

Administration felt that extending the tax due date would ensure that no errors are made.

Administration does not feel that this extension will cause any stress on the village’s cash flow either.

Council, after reviewing, passed the changes in tax rates for 2020.

Ding dong ditch

Coun. Dwayne Giroux brought forward two items for discussion during the Committee of the Whole (COW) portion of the meeting.

The first was about Forestburg’s fire chief moving into the county in mid June and asked if it was mandatory for the chief to live in town in order to do his duties.

Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Debra Moffat explained that there is no requirement for the chief to be a resident of the village and noted many Flagstaff County residents are volunteer firefighters for the village department as well.

“Wanted to make sure we knew [about this],” said Coun. Giroux.

The second item was one of a nuisance that seems to be a common theme amongst people within town, at least for councillors.

Coun. Giroux said that he had been getting unexpected visitors ringing the doorbell at various stages throughout the night, “10 times in the last three weeks,” which startled him and his wife out of bed to see what was going on.

By the last time, Giroux was able to open the door to catch one of the suspects in the act and found there were actually two people taking turns ringing.

He said one was tall and thin while the other was shorter in stature, both with hoodies on and over their heads so he could not identify who they were.

Dep. Mayor Coutts asked for times as he could potentially use his security cameras to see who was out and about at that time.

Two other councillors, as well as the mayor, said they experienced this ding dong ditch prank last year.

Community standards bylaw

Coun. Fossen requested that the Community Standards Bylaw be brought forward for review by Council as she has received several complaints from residents about the bylaw enforcement system with them saying things like ‘Why do I make a complaint if nothing gets done?’

As a result, administration reviewed the bylaw and made a number of formatting changes to the bylaw as well as a change to the nuisance section, adding that two or more unregistered vehicles on a property are not allowed.

Lastly, Section 27 and 28 added that burning fire pits and fireplaces must be attended to at all times after a complaint was made that floating debris was noticed in their backyard from a neighbour.

A significant issue with this bylaw is the inability of village staff to bring forward complaints unless they do it as a citizen.

Section 50 sets out the powers of the CAO which allows them to enforce the bylaw.

At this time, this power has been removed from the CAO by council motion.

If council wishes to continue with the requirement of written complaints from citizens, this section should be changed to indicate that the CAO cannot initiate a bylaw complaint.

Council found the real issue to be that people who wish to complain do not follow through as many choose not to sign their names when writing written complaints as they don’t want the possibility of going to court over this matter.

“We want people to visit and like what they see,” said Coun. Fossen.

CAO Moffat explained the current process, pointing out that it can be drawn out as the owners of the derelict property must be given time first to correct the problem.

Photos of the property are taken as part of the investigation into the complaint.

These photos, as well as a letter, is sent to the homeowner explaining they have a certain amount of time to fix the problem or they will be fined and have someone hired by the municipality to clean up at their expense.

“We have to remember that the bylaw is the first step of a potential legal process,” she added.

“It all takes time. People don’t understand, we have to give the property owner a chance to remedy the situation.”

Moffat also said that many who received the letter do attempt to fix the problem right away.

She said that they can take emailed complaints but find that extra information is needed for it to stand up in court if it comes to that.

“If it’s not good enough to write your name and you’re not prepared to take responsibility, people have to stand up,” said Dep. Mayor Coutts.

Councillors even said they would be willing to step up to the plate by signing the complaint themselves if the place was bad enough in terms of community standards, something Coun. Fossen already does.

Council carried all three readings of the bylaw unanimously.

Tree, branch removal

Mayor Young, as well as councillors and staff, have noticed a large influx in people using the tree and branch dumping area with spring now in full bloom.

CAO Moffat said that public works staff, unfortunately, don’t have the time to continually clean up the area and haul to the transfer station as they simply can’t keep up with the demand.

This work has also taken them away from other important duties that must be done as well.

“It’s costing us a lot of time and money to deal with that,” said CAO Moffat.

To alleviate the situation, council considered making the area public and will set up a policy where people can contact the office to make arrangements for public works to unlock the transfer station, all for free.

Council agreed they did not want the service to close completely but asked that a sign be put up saying it is not available for contractors or be a place large trees to be dumped.

If this does not help, council will revisit the situation.

Financial statements

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Grant Thornton, LLP was unable to send a representative to attend a council meeting to review the 2019 audited financial statements.

They did, however, provide a report for council reviewing the audit process.

“Overall, the 2019 audit did not identify any significant issues, other than the ongoing control issue where the CAO, who is responsible for the production of the financial statements is also responsible for the majority of the adjusting entries that might be posted. Due to the small staff compliment, this is an issue that will not change.”

The 2019 audited financial statements show that the village saw an excess of revenue over expenses of $448,133.

This excess revenue was created by contributed assets including the Forestburg Power Sports Association, $98,846.80 for paving the airport runway; Forestburg Community Hall Board, $100,000 for the hall expansion; Additional utility revenue at $81,840; Additional investment interest earned at $19,913; Additional operating grant for 100 year anniversary celebration at $46,340 and sale of land at $16,525.

Reduced fire and protective services cost $75,764 and the loss of two trucks was included as well.

CAO Moffat said the village is in ‘good financial position’ saying “Overall we made it through a tough year.”

Closed meetings

Forestburg Council began their regular meeting at 7 p.m. with a presentation in a closed session for the duration of 45 minutes.

The presentation falls under Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy, RSA 2000, Chapter F-25, Section 16 Disclosure Harmful to Business Interests of a Third Party.

Blocked sewer line

Ken Van Luven had an issue with a blocked sewer line.

Van Luven had a plumber auger the line and the blockage was cleared approximately 80’ from the house drain.

The plumber from Pritchard Plumbing indicated that the blockage was caused by tree roots.

Van Luven requested that the village reimburse him for the cost of having the line cleared as the problem was determined to be on village property.

A motion was made to accept this reimbursement cost of $288.75.

General personnel policy 

For the last two years, village staff have requested that the office close at 1 pm on Fridays for the months of July and August.

Administration office hours do not allow for the closure of the office during lunchtime, so as a result, administration staff quite often work through their lunch breaks.

If the office were to close at 1 pm on Fridays for July and August, this would eliminate banked time accumulation and allow what has been accumulated to be used up.

Administration proposed a change to Policy B.1.1 to include the closure of the administrative office on Fridays at 1 p.m. for the months of July and August.

With this clause in the policy, it would eliminate the need for the staff to make this request annually.

Council passed the bylaw with no major changes.

Coun. Fossen did ask how this information will be given to residents as many have said they are not computer literate to which CAO Moffat said the newsletter would be most likely used.

Dep. Mayor Coutts added that councillors if told this again, should ask them how they do want to get this community pertinent information if they can’t be reache