The County of Stettler is proceeding with their annual budget process despite the possibility of major impacts from a provincial government oil and gas assessment review after a discussion at their regular meeting Oct. 14.
The review, begun earlier this year by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and members of the corporate oil and gas world and conducted for many months behind closed doors, proposed four separate methods of, essentially, reducing property tax bills for the energy industry.
In early summer it was revealed all of the proposals were based around reducing taxes oil and gas companies paid to municipalities, especially rural municipalities.
Stettler County, which has been an outspoken critic of the assessment review all summer, discussed the review and the fact Municipal Affairs was supposed to make an announcement about the review Oct. 1.
Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Yvette Cassidy stated she was listening to the Minister of Municipal Affairs Tracy Allard speaking at the central Rural Municipalities Association meeting and apparently the announcement was switched to Oct. 15.
As Stettler County approaches budget season, which includes strategic planning followed by budget deliberations, Coun. Dave Grover asked if there was any point in having strategic plans while assessment review changes were unknown.
“Thirty-five per cent less money might make a difference,” said Grover, referring to one of the proposed formulas that would see rural municipal tax revenue cut 35 per cent.
CAO Cassidy stated the county, regardless of the review’s severity, will survive and planning must continue.
Coun. James Nibourg stated the county just needs to have a Plan A and Plan B.
Nibourg stated he hopes “common sense prevails,” and that the provincial government steps back from “raping and pillaging rural Alberta.”
Coun. Wayne Nixon stated he felt rural municipalities can voice opposition to the review but should also offer alternatives.
“We can’t expect status quo,” said Nixon, who also stated some corporate farms in Alberta may not be paying their fair share.
Cassidy pointed out that virtually every official statement made by Stettler County on this issue has included alternatives and many other counties have offered options too.
The CAO stated two of Stettler County’s statements seemed to resonate the most with people: that, if sacrifices must be made for the oil and gas industry, then every Albertan should be expected to make them, not just rural residents; and that the provincial government must make changes to the way the energy industry is taxed, including the fact municipalities have no way of recovering unpaid energy industry taxes as they do, for example, with unpaid residential taxes.
Coun. Nibourg stated Premier Jason Kenney seems indifferent to rural municipality concerns and is digging in his heels.
Cassidy stated it’s been heard among many groups across Alberta this summer that provincial government cost cutting plans didn’t include much public consultation.
Coun. Grover stated he didn’t see a lot of change in Edmonton this summer.
“This government still seems to be attacking rural Alberta,” said Grover.
Coun. Cheri Neitz pointed out she’d seen that the federal government was considering increasing taxes on fuels.
Councillors accepted the discussion as information.
Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative reporter