by Lucie Roy
Town of Morinville Mayor Barry Turner made a presentation on “Supporting Morinville Business: Maximizing Opportunities” to more than 45 people at the Morinville & District Chamber of Commerce Luncheon held Wednesday.
One of the topics covered was property taxes. Morinville moved from an equalized assessment where non-residential and residential property owners are charged the same mill rate to a model where non-residential property taxes are $1.1 for every $1 of residential.
“This year the Tax Bylaw is passed, the mill rates are set; we couldn’t take it back even if wanted to,” Turner said. “So at this point for 2019, that is where we are.”
Turner went on to tell Chamber members that the Town’s long term financial plan coming forward this year to Council in the fall is another opportunity to carry feedback from businesses.
“Council can look at long-term and also an opportunity to benchmark against the averages and adjust as needed,” Turner said.
Compounding this year’s move to a split mill rate was an increase in assessments for many commercial and industrial properties.
The mayor explained that Council approved a split mill rate and an increase to the general tax rate, which meant a 15.48% increase for non-residential.
“Any increase beyond 15.48 % or less than 15.48% is due to changes in the assessed value of your property, or increases due to education taxes and other requisitions,” Turner said. “What was unexpected and particularly challenging is the large scale increase in the market value of non-residential property. The increase experienced is unprecedented in Morinville and resulted in some steep percentage in increases over last year and that left Council with a very difficult decision.”
The mayor faced some tough questions from Garry Hodgins and local business owners Wayne Gatza and Joel and Maurice Chevalier.
Wayne Gatza of Royal LePage questioned Turner on what made commercial value skyrocket. As a realtor, he has not seen a bunch of sales that would “skyrocket prices through the roof.”
Turner said there is also an appeal process for those whose property values had spiked could go through.
Assessment and timing played into other questions. Gary Hodgins asked if Council gave a second consideration to splitting the mill rate after seeing the increases in assessment on the non-residential side.
Turner said adjusting the non-residential taxes downward would have meant raising them elsewhere.
“It has to go out somewhere as revenue requirements were previously set,” Turner said. “Council decided to stay the course with additional upward pressure on residential taxes would push these rates further from the goal. Moving forward as planned resulted in moving closer to the goal of meeting regional taxes for both residential and commercial rates.
There is never a good time to make changes of this type, and this was further compounded with the unforeseen increase in non-residential property value.
After fielding questions from Chamber members, Turned spoke of plans moving forward, particularly on unintended consequences.
“So now, when unexpected consequences occur, we need to learn how to adapt. Going forward Administration is working to access assessment information as soon as possible to provide the opportunity to respond to unforeseen changes in market value assessments,” Turner said.
“Council also approved the creation of a Long Term Financial Plan for 2019 to take a more detailed look at where we are heading and focus on long term fiscal sustainability.”
Turner said the long-term plan would provide another opportunity for input and feedback from our business community.
“Each year brings a new budget and new opportunities to benchmark progress against regional averages and adjust as needed,” he said. “Property tax [allowing different tax rates for small and large businesses] subclasses have also been discussed and Council will be examining the possibilities of introducing subclasses for small businesses during their financial planning review.”
Turner said there had not been enough attention given to what he sees as a plus side of increased assessment in the non-residential sector.
“One of the most important parts of this story that has not received enough attention is that commercial and industrial properties have just seen the most significant market value increase in decades,” the mayor said.
“Large project are completed or underway, including the new Morinville Leisure Centre, two new schools and affordable housing development and industries are giving Morinville a very very serious look.”
Turner went on to say the key is to figure out how to maximize the opportunities presented by the “interest and excitement that is building in the community?”
“The town recognizes the importance of listening to businesses and is working to eliminate barriers for expansion and new investments,” Turner said. “We need to collaborate, and the Chamber has an established record of community business interest and presents the opportunity to start meaningful conversation with all members of the business community, both Chamber members and non-members. So let’s continue the conversation to realize our full potential and let’s do it together so do watch for opportunities to get involved and become a part of our great community conversation.”
In closing the meeting, Chamber President Shaun Thompson thanked the mayor for his presentation and encouraged Chamber members to fill Council Chambers during the 2019 budget to make their voices heard.