The County of Stettler wrote off almost $60,000 in unpaid property taxes owed by defunct oil and gas companies at their regular council meeting Dec. 9.
County Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Yvette Cassidy and Utilities Clerk Sharon Larsen presented a report to councillors detailing unpaid property taxes that added up to almost $60,000.
Cassidy noted that under law if a municipality writes off the debt it can then apply for some provincial relief.
Larsen added that all of the companies in question either no longer exist or are in receivership.
The council agenda listed the following companies: Canadian Oil & Gas International (15 tax rolls), Dewpoint Resources, Quattro Exploration & Production (15 tax rolls), Richbar Energy Ltd., Rockbridge Energy Alberta, Scollard Energy Ltd., Stormhold Energy Ltd., Terra Energy Corp. and Tuscany Energy Ltd.
Coun. Cheri Neitz asked how far back the county could go to try to recover unpaid taxes.
Larsen responded that the county could go back to 2015, but the companies in question only owed back taxes as far as 2018.
Coun. Les Stulberg asked how much of the education requisition the county could get refunded.
Cassidy said the county can get reimbursed by the provincial government for all of the education tax that county ratepayers paid up front and that usually gets recovered when property taxes are paid.
Coun. Dave Grover asked if all of the companies in question are out of business.
Larsen answered that none of the companies councillors were currently looking at were still in operation, while some of their assets may now be in the hands of other companies.
Councillors discussed the seniors housing requisition, a tax placed on properties that funds senior housing in Stettler County.
Coun. James Nibourg asked how much of that, which is also paid up front by Stettler County, is lost when property taxes aren’t collected, which he followed up by asking $1,000? Cassidy answered the county loses a lot more than $1,000.
Nibourg stated he realized the county has no choice but to write off the bad debt, but this issue should be brought forward at every opportunity to Municipal Affairs and it should be pointed out local taxpayers are subsidizing companies that don’t pay their property taxes.
Larsen stated some lobbying has been done in the past.
Nibourg stated the province doesn’t seem to know how much money the county is losing.
“We’re bleeding here,” said Nibourg. “If we don’t tell them, how are they supposed to know?
“It’s not fair, for these guys who are walking away scot-free. We should be punishing the bad guys.”
Councillors approved writing off the bad debts as presented.
Councillors also agreed to contact Municipal Affairs, the Energy Ministry, Senior Housing and MLA Nate Horner to explain the harm these bad debts are causing municipalities.
Coun. Ernie Gendre stated it should be pointed out this has been ongoing for quite a while.
Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative reporter