Peace River MLA says linear assessment needs to balance needs of municipalities and industry

Susan Thompson
South Peace News

Peace River MLA Dan Williams says changes to linear assessment have to take into consideration the tough times oil and gas producers are currently going through.

Williams spoke to Peace River town council via Zoom at their regular meeting on Aug. 10.

Williams says he wanted to have the chance to provide context on any bills and to listen to feedback.

“A very hot topic as you guys know is the linear assessment model review,” Williams says.

After about eight months of review the provincial government has proposed four different ways to change linear assessments.

Rural municipalities including Northern Sunrise County held a recent protest at the Legislature over the potential changes, warning that their ratepayers may have to have their property taxes raised by hundreds of percentage points or the municipalities may be forced to significantly cut their services if the changes go through.

“It’s been a long standing request from industry, particularly oil and gas, to review the way that model functions so that they feel their assets that are overvalued right now in their assessment will be accurately valued,” Williams says.

The Peace River MLA says the assets across the province are different, and natural gas plays in southern Alberta will be affected differently than will a lot of the oil and gas assets in northern Alberta.

Williams says no decisions have been made and he mainly wants to listen on the topic.

“I do understand it has a huge effect both on industry because of the nature of the struggle that they’re in right now, but also the bottom line from any municipalities,” Williams says.

The MLA says feedback from municipalities has been constructive so far and he will be presenting a document to the Minister on the feedback he’s received.

Mayor Tom Tarpey says the Town of Peace River has created “hard fought and hard won” intermunicipal collaboration framework agreements with other municipalities.

“We felt that we came up with some good agreements with two out of the three neighbours. One’s going to arbitration,” Tarpey says.

“A lot of that was dependent on what they were expecting through their linear tax assessment. They knew that it may very well go down because a number of the oil and gas companies were pulling out, but they were certainly counting on that revenue and using that revenue to support us. So changing the rules at this stage of the game is difficult. It’s like changing the tax laws.”

Tarpey says the Town needs stable funding and a stable financial picture to maintain their own asset, the Town itself, and improve it where they can.

“And as you know, the provincial government is cutting back on a lot of the funding that we were counting, like the municipal sustainability grants, and also grants in lieu where we had provincial buildings where they don’t pay municipal taxes but they give a grant that was equivalent to property taxes and that has gone away so there really is a need to maintain the flow of monies that are going in and out.”

MLA Dan Williams says he appreciates that, “Unlike other municipalities like the County of Northern Sunrise, every dollar you guys use goes directly to work inside your municipality and it’s a lot of pressure on you guys for that, and I think that like I said before and as you very articulately laid out this is a regional concern even if you guys don’t have linear assessment that’s affected. It’s not lost on me.”

Deputy Mayor Elaine Manzer says, “I think we’ve been moving along as the Mayor has said in at least the last six to seven years to having our regional partners contribute a lot to our town both in terms of helping with capital costs and helping with some operational aspects.”

“I would hate that we would have lost what we’ve gained through those years through the new model for linear assessment which doesn’t seem to help anybody except decrease the tax bill for some big companies who aren’t necessarily even going to reinvest that money within the province, not necessarily in my opinion going to bring new jobs or continuing jobs to the area just because their tax bill went down. Whereas their tax bill going down has affected not only those rural municipalities but has major potential impacts on us small urbans as the Mayor has suggested,” Manzer says.

Williams says he has spoken with local producers and with the Exporters and Producers Association, who he says has a membership that is the closest thing to Mom and Pop shops with companies who have staffs in general of about 30 people.

Williams says those producers informed him that the second highest cost per barrel for them is municipal taxes.

Williams says his government has to balance the needs of municipalities against the concerns of producers.

He notes it’s the interests of municipalities and producers that matter, and the province’s education revenue would actually go down with the proposed changes in assessment .

“My point is that we’ve got to find that balance,” MLA Williams says.

“I don’t want municipalities to not be viable, I don’t want them going backwards. I also want to make sure that we remain competitive and continue to grow in those jobs that are in the constituency and we don’t lose any businesses,” he says.

Williams says assets in the area are much younger and healthier in the north so not as many companies are on the brink as in the southern part of the province, but they are still struggling.

Meanwhile, Councillor Colin Needham wants to know if Peace River can be included in any future plans from the province to invest in small nuclear power projects.

Williams says there needs to be an interested private company before that can happen.

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