Debate focused on $100,000 surplus during discussion on property tax rate

Should councillors lower their previously approved tax rate increase or should they proceed?

Should councillors lower their previously approved tax rate increase or should they proceed?

That was the question they faced Monday night when they were told that because assessments were higher than predicted and some other changes have occurred they’ll have a $100,000 surplus if they leave the tax rate increase at 2.69 per cent for residential properties and zero for non-residential properties as they decided early in the new year.

A second option was presented that would see the residential rate drop to a 1.4 per cent increase and wipe out the surplus.

The two scenarios were compared in charts which indicated the net difference between the two rates would be about $20 on the average property.

Following extensive discussion, councillors passed first reading of the bylaw to proceed with the 2.69 per cent increase but will discuss it further when they debate second reading. Other positive information was that the provincial requisition for school tax is down 2.4 per cent. Darren Moore, the town’s director of finance, said the decrease will primarily affect non-residential properties.

Councillor Matt Prete favoured maintaining the municipal tax increase and allocating the surplus to the multiplex redevelopment project.

However councillor Dale Plante wasn’t in favour. He preferred lowering the tax increase and leaving the money with residents.

Councillor Jas Payne noted the $100,000 could realistically make a difference to a town project while it would only be the equivalent of about $2 a month “back in my pocket”. He thought the discussion was “ridiculous” when there were areas that money could make a big difference.

Agreeing the money could be used to reduce what the town will need to borrow for the multiplex redevelopment project was councillor Chris Lust.

But councillor Megan Chernoff thought the fire hall is a more current project and applying the $100,000 surplus to reducing what has to be borrowed for that would be a good idea.

Prete expanded his initial comment. “The reason I specified the multiplex is to send a message. If we put it into a reserve it’s going to be just a grab. But if we allocate it to a specific project that’s different. We have got a lot of spending coming up and we have to batten down our hatches. I don’t think we have room for unallocated funds to be sitting around. We need to send a message we’re trying to be responsible with their money. I think people expect taxes are going to go up for the multiplex so we might as well do it now.”

“When citizens look to us for fiscal responsibility, one of the best ways to show fiscal responsibility is to reduce debt,” said Mayor Sean McIntyre. “I think that’s an option we should consider. Allocate to a project upcoming that we know we have to borrow for. That not only reduces what we have to borrow, but also debt servicing costs in the future. Throughout the budgeting process we talked about a 2.69 per cent increase. We have seen changes in the scope of a few projects. We know other projects will change. It’s our responsibility to follow through with the tax rate we communicated to the public and apply funds directly to reducing debt.”

In the end the fate of the $100,000 surplus was left undecided.

During the open microphone portion at the beginning of the council meeting, Dwayne Stoesz, president of Sylvan Lake Chamber of Commerce, thanked council for not increasing the non-residential tax rate.

“A goal of the chamber is to promote and improve the business environment, stimulate a vibrant local economy and produce a co-operative effort to enhance the overall quality of life in Sylvan Lake to its highest potential.

“Passing the budget, without increasing taxation for the business community, aides in fostering a climate in which business can operate profitably and encourages and promotes a positive, well balanced, economic growth through business development,” he said.

Combined assessment and tax notices will be mailed May 30 with a due date of July 31st.