Oil and gas industry sites in Camrose County, some similar to this one, may soon get a tax break from the province that could hurt taxpayers’ bank accounts and kill some county jobs. Photo by Jordie Dwyer

Oil and gas industry sites in Camrose County, some similar to this one, may soon get a tax break from the province that could hurt taxpayers’ bank accounts and kill some county jobs. Photo by Jordie Dwyer

Tax increase, job cuts a reality if assessment proposal not changed

Camrose County suggests increases could be as high as 60 per cent next year

A review of how oil and gas properties are assessed and how much the companies pay has counties around the province bristling at the potential loss of revenue.

That includes Camrose County, which could stand to lose between $2 and $3 million in property tax revenue — about nine per cent of overall taxes — next year, depending on which scenario the provincial government decides upon.

“Our biggest concern is the consequences this will have on all rural Albertans — not just Camrose County residents — through increased taxes and losses in services,” Camrose County Reeve Cindy Trautman said in an interview.

“Property taxes are a municipality’s main revenue source and — as we cannot run a deficit budget — the loss in revenue has to be made up from other taxpayers or by cutting services.”

Considering the possibilities that may arise, Camrose County has suggested all taxpayers could be hit with an increase and there could be jobs lost in the process.

The ideas floated include a hike for residents of between 41 and 56 per cent, a jump in non-residential rates of 22 to 32 per cent and slashing between 16 and 22 full-time county jobs. Although, council could chose a combination of job cuts and tax increases.

“If this is passed, you will be impacted, financially and in lost services,” said Trautman.

“This could include decreases in support provided to other municipalities — such as recreation funding and fire protection — and to community organizations.

“With the additional changes to the police funding model, and on top of historically high unpaid taxes from oil and gas, county residential taxpayers will see significant property tax increases in the coming years.”

The review, which was started shortly after the UCP took office, has presented four scenarios to municipalities that will be implemented in 2021 and a chance to provide feedback between now and when the province will make its decision some time in late August.

All four proposed scenarios reduce overall assessment values with province-wide reductions ranging from seven to 20 per cent, which will put many counties in a huge hole, to the point where some may likely attempt to dissolve.

“Changing the assessment model is inequitable, as it places the entire burden for industry saving onto municipalities,” Trautman said.

“It is also inequitable in how the benefits are distributed. Large companies will receive significant reductions, while many small companies will actually see their assessment increase. There is no link between these industry savings and investment or job creation in Alberta.”

She added that the group that represents counties, the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA), is strongly opposed to the proposed changes given the significant impacts it will have on municipalities.

“Alternatives such as incentive-based grants or infrastructure investment programs would fairly share the cost and benefits,” Trautman said, adding the RMA has provided the government with its analysis and alternatives.

“It could also provide a direct link between the incentive given and the benefit to Alberta, which would be transparent and sustainable.”

Trautman added this by no means indicates that rural Alberta and the county no longer support the oil and gas industry, but that municipalities cannot afford such deep cuts given there is no guarantee those savings will remain in Alberta.

“Rural Alberta is a supporter of oil and gas and all industry in our province. The only real winner under all the proposed scenarios are large oil companies,” she said, noting the deadline for a decision is within the next month.

“Rural residents across Alberta need to contact their MLA and let them know their concerns with these proposed changes. It is important that Albertans take action now.”

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