Damning tax rate part of Sylvan’s business growth problem

As we watch Sylvan Lake grow, creating new subdivisions, welcoming new residents and increasing our activity in recreation and cultural

As we watch Sylvan Lake grow, creating new subdivisions, welcoming new residents and increasing our activity in recreation and cultural events, we continue to hear some people wish for the way it was. When the downtown was the commercial core. When life was more idyllic.

Well, those times are gone — but something new will certainly sprout — it just takes time, just as our seasons move from spring through summer, fall and then winter.

Along the way there are things we can do to spur change, just as we fertilize our fields and gardens to reap a bountiful harvest.

We’re in the midst of an election and now is the time to put forth some of the positive ideas that will accomplish what we want. Not so much hot air but more of that fragrant mass that tends to percolate and allow inspiration to escape.

In the short time we’ve been living in Sylvan Lake — about 10 years — we’ve seen a massive influx of residents, yet the corresponding influx of businesses to provide the wants and needs of those residents hasn’t materialized. We were told when we hit the magic population of 10,000 regional and national brand name businesses would look more favourably our way. That hasn’t happened to the extent we’d like.

Thus, as one candidate recently said we’ve got a tax base where more than 80 per cent of the town’s revenue is generated by residents and less than 15 per cent by commercial and industrial businesses.

So, it was postulated, when we need to build complexes such the new multiplex or fire hall, its residents that are paying the largest share. That’s just the way it is in a bedroom community.

We want to be very clear. The ratio needs to be changed. But it can’t be changed on the backs of commercial and industrial businesses. We need more employment building companies in Sylvan Lake to create a balanced community.

How do we do that? One of the first ways is to look from within. How many of our neighbours are travelling to Red Deer, Lacombe, Innisfail, Burnt Lake Industrial Park and other adjacent areas to work? Perhaps they’re business owners who could consider moving their enterprises to Sylvan Lake.

We looked quickly at our community and note there’s plenty of industrial land still available on our eastern outskirts. In fact there’s a quarter section that was planned for industrial development that sits empty.

Nobody would disagree that we’ve got plenty of commercial space downtown. We’ve also got areas zoned for more commercial activity. And with new subdivisions coming on stream there are pockets within those for small niche market businesses. We could use a few office buildings.

One of the things our councillors must do when elected, though, is look at the damning tax system that’s been created which puts businesses at a significant disadvantage.

Our residential property tax rate is 5.307 while our non-residential rate is 10.024, a difference of over 88 per cent.

A report released yesterday (Wednesday) by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business states business is still being treated like a cash cow by many municipalities, not just Sylvan Lake.

One municipality though, Rocky Mountain House, “has consistently held the ratio to 1 to 1”, meaning their residential and non-residential rates are the same. “They deserve credit for maintaining a fair and consistent approach to taxpayers of all classes over the last decade,” stated the report. We couldn’t agree more.

Sylvan Lake needs to reduce its differential so we can attract more business. That’s just one of the ways we can become more business-friendly and welcoming to expansion of our retail and industrial sectors.

Another, falls to residents. If they don’t want to see their taxes increasing they need to shop at home and encourage our businesses — both existing and new — with their dollars.