Freeze in commercial tax rate meant to send ‘open for business’ message

Over the next year, Sylvan Lake councillors have committed to studying the differential between residential and non-residential tax rates

Over the next year, Sylvan Lake councillors have committed to studying the differential between residential and non-residential tax rates and establishing a clear vision of where they want to be in the future.

In the meantime, they agreed to freeze the non-residential (commercial and industrial) rate at the 2013 level for the current year, but the decision was not without significant debate.

Councillors discussed whether it would send a strong enough signal to entrepreneurs and developers that the town is open for business while others called for a long term strategy.

“I don’t feel personally that I’m content to have my taxes go up while business taxes go down,” said Councillor Jas Payne. “We have a lot to offer, we just haven’t put it out for people to see. Once we have incentive plans, a design, we can put it out there.”

He agreed a freeze would be a good compromise for this year but said, “I don’t want to take more money out of the hands of residents”.

There are a lot of people in the community who can’t afford the $100 increase they were projecting, said Payne.

Councillor Chris Lust said she could live with a freeze, but was concerned about a long term change which could “jeopardize services”.

“What we have to decide is our vision,” said Mayor Sean McIntyre. “We can’t be living our lives without a long term plan. We know we have challenges with our assessment base so heavily weighted to residential. This is a means to an end, in theory it’s a short term change for long term gain.

“When we change tax rates, combined with annexation plans, our non-residential base will grow,” McIntyre predicted.

“I like the idea that we be a little more aggressive than just a freeze,” said Councillor Graham Parsons. He agreed that a freeze this year would be a good idea then council has a year to study the issue and create a longer term plan.

“I think we have to be more aggressive than just a freeze,” he continued.

Councillor Dale Plante said, “I don’t hear any disagreement around the table about the need to shift.

“A freeze is going to be able to send a loud enough message,” he suggested. Then next year they’d have a long term plan.

Payne agreed to that suggestion.

Betty Osmond, the town’s chief administrative officer, told councillors that next year they’d be looking at a three year operating budget rather than working year-to-year so a plan would make sense.

With last year’s rates, non-residential property owners were paying a rate more than 85 per cent higher than residential ratepayers.

“We want to attract business. Part of that is to re-evaluate non-residential rates,” said McIntyre.