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Hackett: The tax man cometh


Even as far back as ancient Rome, citizens paid taxes.

They paid land taxes and wage taxes, as well as cattle taxes. The state used the money to fund its military, create public works and stimulate the economy.

I’m sure on some ancient scroll exists a complaint from a citizen about those taxes being too high or unaffordable for the average person. It’s a rite of passage for citizens of a democracy to complain about taxes. As a socially responsible/ engaged community member, you haven’t really lived if you haven’t grumbled or complained about taxes, whether quietly or loudly.

So, it shouldn’t be surprising when thousands of years after the fall of Rome, the City of Red Deer proposes a seven to nine per cent increase in 2024, after settling on a four per cent increase in late 2022, and the people are pushing back.

In a lot of cases, the pushback feels less about the actual increase itself and more about measures that should have been taken to prevent an increase in the first place.

People see certain projects as wasteful or unnecessary. They see poor winter road maintenance, loans to Westerner Park and operations of the River Bend Golf and Recreation Area or dragged-out construction projects and wonder why those inefficiencies can’t be turned into a break on that tax increase.

Citizens want a responsible government that spends and borrows on a budget, like the ones that many of us follow in our day-to-day lives. That’s even if there are more nuances involved in government finances than personal finance — it’s not exactly comparing apples to apples. But people still want their city to represent them and to most, that means analyzing and adjusting spending when times are tough.

Particularly here in Alberta, there is also a significant aversion to taxes. We love our five per cent goods and services tax and will launch someone into the sun if they suggest raising it. My parents come and visit from Ontario and get downright giddy at the eight per cent savings on taxes (Ontario pays a 13 per cent goods and services tax). People bristle at an increase, even at the proposed four per cent property tax increase in 2022, Red Deerians weren’t happy.

And while that tax isn’t the same as the property tax increase that Red Deerians will face in 2024, to the average person, a tax is a tax no matter what it encompasses.

So the city of Red Deer has decided that in order to keep up with inflation, a tax increase of seven to nine per cent, as opposed to the 4.1 per cent increase proposed as part of the original two-year budget, is simply necessary.

And considering nearly every municipality across the province has had to raise property taxes because of inflation and a pullback of provincial government funding, it makes sense on the surface.

“We know that nobody likes a tax increase, but we need to ensure that we can continue funding the essential services that keep our city running. Everything from roads and recreation to police and emergency services,” the city said in a recent Budget FAQ document.

This is far from the only reason provided in the package, which I think does a pretty good job of answering questions about the increase, where it comes from and what it means.

But I think the anger and frustration isn’t coming from a place of worry about loss of services. It’s coming from people who are concerned that the city isn’t doing enough to protect the average citizen from these increases but just downloading the costs that they’ve incurred over the years and passing them on to the people.

It’s a worry that council will just accept the increase as a cost of doing business and not try and be creative with a solution that even looks like they care about the people who have to pay more property tax.

People are always going to expect municipalities to do more with less. And especially in a time where we’ve all had to do that with our own personal finances, it’s hard to see the city asking for more and wonder why they just can’t tighten their own financial belt instead. It just feels like a cop out to ask the people for more.

I expect plenty of highly engaged debate between Jan. 23-26, when the amended budget will be presented and I hope council will do its best to represent the collective will of the people.

Byron Hackett is the Managing Editor of the Red Deer Advocate and a Regional Editor for Black Press Media.

Byron Hackett

About the Author: Byron Hackett

Byron has been the sports reporter at the advocate since December of 2016. He likes to spend his time in cold hockey arenas accompanied by luke warm, watered down coffee.
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