Minimum tax going up

Prince Albert city council has voted by a 5-4 margin to increase the minimum tax level paid by city property owners.

Since 2017, property owners have paid a minimum of $476 in taxes, however that’s set to change after council approved the first two readings of a place that will raise the minimum to $576. The third and final reading will be voted on at a special council meeting to be held at a later date.

Ward 6 Coun. Blake Edwards spearheaded the decision to increase the minimum tax rate. He said it should be even higher, but admitted it will be best for the city to increase the minimum tax total in small dosages.

“In my opinion, the minimum tax should be $1,000,” Edwards said during Monday’s city council meeting. “I know we’re can’t get there right away, but I certainly believe it’s time that we took a look at this, and raised it a little bit at a time on a regular basis.”

Edwards’ main concern was for landlords and rental property owners who he said aren’t repairing or renovating their properties because they didn’t want to increase their tax burden. He added that the old minimum of $476 barely covered anything, never mind the cost of fire and water service. Those two services cost each property owner a combined $1,807, on average, according to figures from 2017.

Edwards received strong support from some councillors, like Ward 5 Coun. Dennis Ogrodnick, who said the burden of police and fire service costs weren’t being shared equally among Prince Albert residents.

““Should every house pay that $1,800? I don’t think every house can afford that,” Ogrodnick said during the meeting. “I agree … there has to be a balance. What is that balance, I don’t know, but it definitely is not $476 … so we do need to find somewhere where we’re all comfortable in saying, ‘this is what’s fair and affordable for all people in the city of Prince Albert.’”

“Rates for everything have gone up. Everything,” Edwards added. “The policing (cost) has gone up. The roads have gone up. The work that we do has gone up significantly, but the minimum tax hasn’t gone up to balance that off. I agree, we can’t get to $1,000 right now. Maybe in 15 years we could get there, or a shorter time, but immediately, right away, there needs to be a balance.”

That sentiment didn’t go over well with all city councillors. Ward 1 Coun. Charlene Miller was the most vocal opponent of the decision. Miller said property owners who pay the minimum tax aren’t getting good service. In particular, she said bylaw services haven’t been quick enough in dealing with derelict houses in her ward. As long as that continues, she won’t agree to any minimum tax increase.

“I wouldn’t oppose this if something would be done on the other side,” she said during the meeting. “However, things aren’t being done.”

Mayor Greg Dionne took a different approach to the issue. He said if council doesn’t think landlords or rental property owners are paying their fair share, then council should start treating them like commercial businesses.

Right now, for example, landlords have to sign petitions to get streets paved. Dionne said that if one landlord owns multiple properties on one street, they have an inordinate amount of influence on what repairs and infrastructure projects get put forward.

“I think it’s time that, after this budget process, we have a straight discussion about rental properties and who has the rights,” he said. “When it comes to paving a street, it should be the person that’s living in the house (who decides), not the person who lives in Calgary who doesn’t want to pay huge paving costs. That’s how you lift up your city and make your city better.”

If officially approved at the next special council meeting, this will mark the fourth time in 15 years Prince Albert’s minimum tax level has increased. It will affect 571 properties in the city, 449 of which are residential properties and another 114 that are vacant or empty lots. Another two are listed as “agricultural” properties, while six more have condos on them that are not yet constructed.

The minimum tax rate does not cover services such as paving and snow removal, which are paid separately.

Editor’s note: the print version of this story incorrectly states the old and new minimum tax rates as $376 and $476 respectively. The correct numbers should be $476 and $576 respectively. The online and e-edition versions both contain the correct numbers.

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