Times Associate Editor
An increase in the education portion of the property tax recently released in the Alberta government’s 2016 budget is railroading town council to collect hundreds of thousands of dollars more from taxpayers and continues to tie their political hands in the process.
Numbers released for 2016 show that Strathmore is subjected to an eight per cent increase in the education property tax, equivalent to an additional $371,233. Every year municipalities are required to collect the education property tax and redirect the money to the province to be deposited into the Alberta School Foundation Fund (ASFF) – a fund established by the province in 1994.
The number is derived from the province’s calculations of each municipality’s assessment value for taxable properties, to then contribute of the public education system. Along with an $8,900 increase to the Wheatland Housing requisition, and slight decreases in the municipal mill rate – calculated from the 2016 budget and the assessment roll for taxable properties – the average residential property will experience an increase of 2.3 per cent, resulting in $55.
“The increase that we do have, I think is safe to say, is pretty much exclusively as a result to the education requisition increase,” said Director of Corporate Services with the Town of Strathmore Mel Tiede.
According to the provincial 2016 to 2019 fiscal plan, the education property tax revenue collected from Alberta municipalities for the 2016 to 2017 year is foreshadowing a climb of 6.8 per cent or a $2.4 billion windfall. As a result, the funds make up 32 per cent of the 2016 to 2017 education operating costs.
Tiede presented this information within the 2016 Tax Rate Bylaw to council on April 20, where council was once again left powerless against the tax and in agreement with other municipalities who publicly voiced their opposition to the process.
“I know certainly many communities across this province are strenuously opposing this provincial government assessment regarding education taxes and are very upset that the province is continuing to insist that municipalities gather a provincial tax,” said Councillor Denise Peterson.
“I’m sure we’d have support in the rest of the province for school boards and for municipalities to join together to lobby strongly for this process to change into a more transparent and fair process. It’s not only onerous for a municipality to have to pass this on with not power or no input basically, and it’s even worse for school boards who are still expected to carry out their book of business without being able to impact the situation.”
Strathmore’s 2016 Tax Rate Bylaw also outlined a decline in the municipal residential mill rate to 5.476 from 5.557 the previous year. The non-residential mill rate also decreased to 6.251 from 6.312 in 2015. While the town collects the taxes – including the education property tax – annually, some councillors are bracing themselves for some backlash from ratepayers.
“We will be getting a lot of complaints about this rate, and I think it’s just really important to remember that we have nothing to do with this rate increase,” said Councillor Bob Sobol. “That $371,000 is money we collect from our taxpayers and we write a cheque to the provincial government for that amount. That’s our job, that’s required by law. We have no choice in the matter. We like to see it changed. We tried very hard over the last few years to get that changed, but it does go on our tax bill. It is certainly not funds, it’s not a municipal tax, because we don’t see one cent of it.”
Council did pass the 2016 Tax Rate Bylaw on April 20, with Mayor Michael Ell and Councillor Steve Grajczyk absent.