LAC LA BICHE - A recent meeting in Smoky Lake that drew municipal officials from across northeastern Alberta to discuss tax assessment formula with Alberta's new Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard has Lac La Biche County's administrative boss feeling cautiously optimistic.
"The best news we heard was that she wants the process to be more consultative," says Lac La Biche County's acting CAO Ken VanBuul.
The process revolves around plans to adjust the way industrial properties within municipalities across the province are assessed for tax calculations.
About a month ago, former Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu announced the provincial government was planning to re-visit the assessment formula which is laid out within provincial taxation guidelines — but collected by municipalities as part of their annual revenues.
The plan initially saw four scenarios that were being investigated. In the worst-case scenario from a financial standpoint, a reduction in assessment values for industrial properties within Lac La Biche County would amount to almost $6 million taken from the roughly $60 million in total taxes the county collects. Across the province, many municipal leaders banded together to opposed the assessment changes. Lac La Biche County, St. Paul and Bonnyville municipal leaders joined dozens of other municipal officials at a rally in front of the Alberta Legislature in August. Representatives at that rally said assessment changes in their municipalities could cut up to 50 per cent of their annual tax revenues.
In Lac La Biche County, property taxes from urban and rural residential and non-residential properties make up 87 per cent of all municipal revenues. Of those tax revenues, 85 per cent come from taxes paid by industrial properties.
Lac La Biche County Mayor Omer Moghrabi said the potential loss of revenue in the province's assessment plans was compounded by the lack of information and consultation offered to municipal leaders during the government's deliberations over the changes. Moghrabi said members from larger industries were part of stakeholder meetings about the changes — but municipal officials were not consulted.
In recent weeks, provincial officials have said the plans were again being revised. A change in ministers of the Municipal Affairs department on August 25 has also slowed down the process — and offered municipalities a chance to be heard, says Moghrabi.
"She has put a pause on it," confirmed the mayor after attending last week's meeting in Smoky Lake. "She listened to us."
Representatives from Canadian Natural Resources Ltd — one of Lac La Biche County's largest industrial taxpayers — were contacted to comment on the province's assessment strategies, but company spokesperson Julie Woo said there was no corporate comment available at this time.
During the meeting with Allard, no set timeline was determined for the length of the 'pause', but with most municipal councils beginning 2021 budget deliberations in the last quarter of this year, decisions are expected by the beginning of October.