Column: Zero tax hike proposed by Morinville councillor as other governance issues stagnate

by Ed Cowley, freelancer

One Morinville town councillor wants to see the 2023 budget drafted with a zero tax increase while also correcting the order in which the budget and taxation rates are prepared.

Coun. Scott Richardson presented council with a notice of motion on Sept. 27 that will see council consider both issues on Oct. 11.

Several times in the last three council meetings, councillors and administration have commented that logically a budget should be developed first, and the taxation rates then become a calculation after the assessment figures are available, thereby arriving at the previously set revenue level.

Until now, the taxation rate has been a political decision based on whether council is willing to raise taxes and to what degree. The political tax rates are then applied to an estimated assessment (actual assessment is not available until early in the new year) to create a revenue figure to place in the budget. Once the actual assessment figures arrive, there is usually a wringing of hands and rounds of debate because the planned tax rate isn’t going to produce the revenue figure that was projected.

Richardson’s motion will probably result in the process of developing a budget being more logical.

However, the portion of his motion regarding a zero tax increase has virtually no chance of passing because administration has a perpetual desire for more revenue and several councillors enjoy the perception, false though it is, that they are promoting growth by rebating thousands of dollars to developers who build commercial or residential projects. A draft incentive proposal suggests 150% of one year’s municipal taxes paid back to developers over a period of three years. That drain on funds, along with other puffy spending typically contained in its annual budgets, basically guarantees a tax increase for the residents and businesses that do not get an ‘incentive’.

Richardson foreshadowed his intent to bring the issue to a council debate, when media put the budget question to all council members. “Great points, I definitely think this is a good idea, and I may bring forward a motion,” Richards stated.

All council members had been asked the following by email. It has been noted by some councillors and admin that the budget should be developed first before a tax rate is calculated. Will you support a resolution directing admin to develop the 2023 budget draft based on a specific increase in revenue dollars (eg 3%) with the tax calculation later? 

Despite Mayor Simon Boersma stating last month that he would be treating questions sent to the ‘Mayor and Council’ email as requests for official comment and he would be the only one responding, no response was received from him.

Richardson’s notice of motion will make it on the agenda, but there has been no formal session planned at council for public input into the budget. Any businesses or residents with a view on how much the revenue should be increased or decreased in the initial draft of the town’s 2023 budget (compared to 2022) should call or email council members before Oct. 11 to provide advice.

The notice of motion regarding the budget was one of four that council will be considering Oct. 11. Two veteran councillors, Richardson and Stephen Dafoe, each submitted two notices of motion to bring items to the table. Few governance issues that come up during regular council meetings are actually debated through subsequent resolutions, so the notices of motion appear to be the tool of choice now to try to get action on governance issues.

Other issues that council needs to address

Among other governance issues that all council members were asked for comments are the following.

Council was advised by admin in writing on Sept. 13 that residential is a cost to the municipality (unlike multi-family and commercial/industrial). Will you support a resolution to get a full report on why residential does not cover its costs?

Richardson responded, ” I left that meeting with a few questions, and I will be asking some questions once I have a better understanding of what was meant by those comments, I’ll be sure to let you know.”

Economic Development advised council there is no inventory of available commercial/industrial sites for prospective projects and won’t be for 2 years. Will you support a resolution directing admin to immediately prepare that document needed to respond to development prospects?

Richarson reacted, “hearing that we don’t have an inventory of available lands for prospective investors is alarming to me, the completion of this list should be a priority”

In August council was advised there is no build-out plan for the Ray MacDonald recreation area despite the town building projects on site. Will you support a resolution directing admin to draft a plan for the full site?

“I think council needs to re-evaluate what the vision is for those lands, and if the vision is still a destination area, yes we would need a plan for the full build-out, if it’s a different vision or direction, then maybe not,” stated Richardson.

Dafoe also responded to all four questions briefly by lumping them together. (He references the order the questions were sent, which is the same as the order presented above.)

While noting his response would be brief as he was attending an Alberta Municipalities conference, Dafoe stated: “My answer is ‘it depends on the debate’ to all of your questions. Simply put, all my support for any given resolution is based on the information and debate in council chambers and not determined before. That said – your first two concerns have merit in the need for added info/clarification, and the last two, I have different interpretations of what was said if you have time for me to elaborate beyond Monday’s deadline.”

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