Bill 21 transition dominates mayoral debate

Mayoral candidate Don Scott has pledged to oppose a 10-year property tax transition plan council has endorsed to adapt to tax rate changes under Bill 21 and Bill 8.

Source: Bill 21 transition dominates mayoral debate, Fortmcmurraytoday


Sunlight glints on the brickwork of Fort McMurray’s Jubilee Building, home to city hall, in Fort McMurray Alta. on Tuesday July 5, 2016. Cullen Bird/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

Mayoral candidate Don Scott has pledged to oppose a 10-year property tax transition plan council has endorsed to adapt to tax rate changes under Bill 21 and Bill 8.

Scott stated his opposition to the plan during an hour-long on-air debate between Wood Buffalo’s four mayoral candidates – Scott, Allan Grandison, Anthony Needham and Allan Vinni. The debate was hosted by Mix 103.7 in partnership with the Today. The transition plan will decrease the rural non-residential tax rate by three per cent every year until 2027, reducing property tax revenues to a projected $528 million in 2027 from $737 million in 2017. It will also raise annual residential taxes by a total of about six dollars to $50, depending on the value of each resident’s property.

“The current path we’re on I believe is unviable,” Scott said. “So one of the things I’m going to encourage the new council to do is rescind the proposal that was just voted on at the last council meeting.”

Scott said he wants the new council to sit down again with industry, and insist that any tax reduction for industry has to be tied to a commitment to reduce the commuter workforce and bring more people into the region.

“It’s great to have a partnership, but the partnership needs to work in both directions,” he said.

The transition plan is meant to address Bill 21’s changes to the Municipal Government Act, which include the introduction of a 5:1 ratio for how much a municipality can tax its non-residential property tax classes relative to its residential tax classes.

Currently, the municipality has an 18:1 tax ratio. It collects close to 95 per cent of its property tax revenues from the rural non-residential tax class, which includes oilsands projects.

Vinni did not say during the debate if he would oppose the transition plan, but was the only councillor to vote against the transition plan at the Sept. 14 council meeting.

Bill 21 is an “unprecedented attack” on local governments’ ability to dictate their property tax rates, Vinni said. The transition plan will cut the municipal budget by $200 million by 2027, he added.

“To get there council is proposing essentially zero per cent wage hikes, no new capital projects for the next 10 years, none at all,” he said.

Grandison said this would be one of many opportunities for council to sit down with industry and work with them.

He added that he thought council should honour the transition plan it endorsed, though stopped short of giving it his full support.

“I think the agreement is in place right now, I think there’s an obligation to move forward and to honour it,” he said. “But I’m certainly willing to look at any other options as we move forward.”

Needham agreed that the municipality should work with industry to adapt to Bill 21’s changes.

“Of course our capital budget is going to be cut but most of the infrastructure is in place for now,” he said, adding that the municipality should work with industry to ensure the oilsands shadow population is paying its part.

The hour-long debate also covered fly-in fly-out, downtown development, the aging-in-place facility at Willow Square and the East Clearwater Highway.

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