by Colin Smith
It’s official. Morinville property owners will be paying 1% more in municipal tax this year following the passage of the 2021 Property Tax Bylaw at the May 25 regular meeting of Morinville Town Council. Council approved second and third reading 4-2.
With the 1% increase, the owner of an average residential home can expect a tax increase of $28.87 in 2021, including municipal tax of $16.86, education tax of $10.40 and Homeland Housing requisition of $1.55.
The residential/non-residential mill rate split remains at 1:1:1. The average commercial property tax increase will be $234.56, plus $63.81 for education tax and $6.16 for Homeland Housing. Industrial tax will increase by $126.28 and $7.22 for Homeland Housing, while education tax will drop by $8.19.
Property tax notices will now be mailed out soon with payment due by June 30.
Reduced property values forces reopening of budget
The tax bylaw was given first reading on April 27. Passage of the amended tax bylaw follows on the reopening of the 2021 Operating Budget as a result of a $260,000 shortfall resulting from lower than anticipated growth and a reduction in property assessments. The amended budget was passed earlier in Tuesday’s meeting.
That meeting saw the second and third reading of the bylaw, with a final exchange on differing opinions on the proposed 1% tax hike.
Opening the debate on the third reading of the bylaw, Councillor Scott Richardson declared his opposition.
“I think the way we’re going we’ll quickly be on a chart that will be the highest tax rate in the Capital Region,” Richardson said. “That’s not the chart that we want to be on, and for that’s sake, I will not be supporting any sort of increase in taxes this year.”
Councillor Sarah Hall noted that raising taxes was a tough decision to make.
“We weren’t expecting to have to make up this much money in operating from decisions from councils [of the] past,” said Hall. “Now we’re here. I just don’t see another way out.”
Hall attributed much of the Town’s unhappy financial position to the cost of operating the Morinville Leisure Centre.
“If we had dealt with the MLC at the beginning that would have been a 10% [tax] increase right off the hop,” she said. “That would be absurd. I don’t think 1% is absurd. I just don’t feel good about not moving the needle a little bit.”
Stated Councillor Stephen Dafoe, “I’m disappointed that in this year of all years we didn’t do 0%.”
Dafoe said he understood the rationale of councillors who supported a tax increase.
“But 1% is $110,000. I could name three things that we could have spent $110,000 that we didn’t need to or we felt that we needed to. So I can’t support this [increase] this year.”
“Nobody wants to have a tax increase, especially in a pandemic,” said Deputy Mayor Nicole Boutestein. “However it’s not just looking at today, it’s looking at the future and we can’t just continue to increase our deficit.”
The Town’s expenses are high and service levels may need to be looked at, Boutestein allowed.
“At the same time, we have set up an expectation of programming service levels throughout the Municipality,” she said. “It’s going to be very hard to take those away without having some very negative feedback.”
Mayor Barry Turner also pointed to the MLC as a point of financial stress for Morinville.
“Council did make an investment in the MLC,” he said. “It’s the right project at the right time. Unfortunately along with that comes an increase in need for revenue to fund that.”
According to Turner, when Council was looking at the project, most community residents said they would be willing to pay about $100 for it.
“Over the last four years we haven’t raised it by that amount in terms of municipal tax increases,” he said.
The Mayor expressed concern about reducing taxes to provide financial relief for residents, something he said was the role of the Federal and Provincial governments. The Federal and Provincial governments being able to provide financial relief through other measures besides tax reductions.
“We have to be careful about going down the slippery slope of income support for residents,” he said. “We can’t fund that with property taxes.”
Added Turner, “We have a daunting tax-supported deficit. We do need to move the needle a bit to set us up in the longer term.”
Said Councillor Lawrence Giffin, “It is unfortunate that we are in the situation we are in, but we are where we are and we have to deal with it. Such is life.”
Councillor Rebecca Balanko was not in the meeting for the debate on the second and third reading of the bylaw.
When the vote was taken the bylaw passed third reading by a vote of four to two, with Mayor Barry Turner, Deputy Mayor Nicole Boutestein and Councillors Lawrence Giffin and Sarah Hall in favour and Councillors Stephen Dafoe and Scott Richardson opposed.