by Tristan Turner
The representative body of Morinville’s business owners has let Council know loud and clear what they want: keep business taxes low, even if it means residential taxes must go up. This comes after a presentation from Shaun Thompson, President of the Morinville and District Chamber of Commerce presented to Council at their monthly Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting. The Chamber request is in opposition to recent discussions at Council about potentially splitting Morinville’s mill rates or at least having a discussion about the topic.
Morinville is the only municipality in Alberta that keeps its residential and business property tax rates (or mill rates) identical. Every other community in the province tends to have a higher business tax rate in order to reduce residential taxes or increase Town revenue. Thompson said Leduc is the only community in the province with a lower business mill rate than Morinville at 6.66 per $1000 of assessment compared to Morinville’s 6.67 per $1000 of assessment.
Some communities charge non-residential property owners upwards of 10 times the residential rate. Most communities are far more modest. Sturgeon County charges non-residential just under 3 times the residential rate.
Recent changes to the Municipal Governance Act will mean that every community in the province will have to cap out their business tax rate at five times the residential rate.
This topic is coming to a head now in Council because they will be setting Morinville’s tax rates for 2018 at the Apr. 24 meeting through second and third reading of the tax rates bylaw.
During the previous COW meeting, Mayor Barry Turner argued that this year, Council will have to explore their options when it comes to the mill rate and justify the rate in public debate.
“In the past, we have been not great at articulating plans to the community… and [our justification the rate] has never been said. At last council, it never even came to the table,” Turner said at the previous COW meeting. “At some point, it becomes an organizational thing that just carries on… we have an obligation to the community… as the only one of 87 municipalities that don’t split the rates, we owe an explanation.”
During the recent COW meeting, Thompson argued that lower business tax rates spur growth and keeping the rate lower could mean less empty leasing space in Town. Thompson also argued that keeping the business rate low would drive residential growth in the Town.
Thompson also briefly mentioned a lack of additional services to attract business.
“We do not have the broadband that other communities may have, and we believe we have to look at our mill rate as it is right now as a positive to bring further growth into our community until further resources are available to businesses, including a Full-Time Development Officer…”
Thompson did not submit his presentation – or any associated information – to Council ahead of their meeting, but he did circulate his prepared statement to Council and media during the presentation.
Council had many comments in response to the presentation, ranging from thanks for the information to some confusion on some of the Chamber’s arguments and their decision to provide no information for Council ahead of the meeting in their agenda package.
Councillor Sarah Hall was confused about Thompson’s reasoning that lower business taxes and therefore higher residential taxes would increase residential growth, while also removing Morinville’s status as a ‘bedroom community’, as Thompson quoted in a Morinville Development plan document during his speech. “I don’t think this helps your case,” Hall said.
Deputy Mayor Stephen Dafoe concurred, saying, “I also noticed a lot of logical fallacies in your statements including the one pointed out by my colleague [Councillor Hall].”
Thompson apologized for not submitting any information or his prepared speech ahead of time, stating that he just “wanted an opportunity to let Council know what we think [about the mill rate change].”
Council will debate Morinville’s 2018 mill rates at their Apr. 24 council meeting.