July 21st, 2017

roperty taxes and public services

By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on June 16, 2017.

Annual residential property tax bills went out in the mail a few weeks ago, and this is the time of year I hear from some residents who question the value they receive for their tax dollars as well as the need for tax increases.

Most of the money collected each year in property taxes is used to provide important public services that help keep the community safe and contribute to our quality of life. These include important services such as police and fire protection, road maintenance, public transit, parks, public libraries as well as arts and recreation facilities.

Typically, I hear from some residents who want to pay less in property taxes without sacrificing any municipal services or others who want greater levels of service with no increase in taxes. This illustrates the challenge city council faces in seeking to do what’s best for the entire community while respecting that the community’s capacity and tolerance for tax increases is limited.

Some residents I hear from also question how property tax levels in Lethbridge compare to those in other Alberta cities. As has long been the case, Lethbridge falls somewhere in the middle of the pack.

In 2017, Lethbridge was the ninth-lowest among 22 Alberta cities in median total tax (municipal property tax plus provincial education tax) for single-family residential properties. Using another comparison of the 2017 median municipal property tax for single-family residential properties, Lethbridge was the 14th-lowest among the same 22 Alberta cities.

Here’s a breakdown of where each of your total property tax dollars go:

Police and Fire/EMS – 28 cents

Alberta Education – 23 cents

Community Services – 15 cents

Parks Management – 6 cents

Transit & ACCESS-A-Ride – 6 cents

Debt & Pay-As-You-Go Capital – 6 cents

Streets & Roads – 5 cents

Corporate Services – 5 cents

Governance & Community

Development – 3 cents

Infrastructure Services – 2 cents

Green Acres Foundation – 1 cent

It’s also worth noting that your overall property tax bill includes two other components besides your municipal property tax levy. One is the provincial education levy which this year accounts for almost 23 per cent of the overall bill. The other is the levy for the Green Acres Foundation, which helps fund seniors’ housing in our community, and which accounts for one per cent of your overall tax bill. That leaves 76 per cent of each tax dollar that goes to providing tax-funded services.

Unlike provincial and federal income tax revenues, municipal tax revenues are not indexed, which means they do not rise automatically with your income. Although provincial and federal tax rates (the percentage of your income withheld as income tax) may remain the same from year to year, the actual tax revenues increase annually as incomes increase. As our costs rise annually with inflation and other cost pressures, we must adjust tax rates accordingly. The city is also responsible for collecting a portion of property taxes, over which we have no control, that support provincial education and seniors housing.

Tax time can be challenging for seniors in our community who are on limited incomes. For these residents, the provincial Seniors Property Tax Deferral Program is worth considering. This voluntary program allows eligible seniors to defer their residential property taxes through a low-interest home equity loan with the Alberta government. For an eligible senior, the province will pay property taxes to the city, and the loan will be payable in the future when the senior sells the home. For applications and eligibility details, contact Alberta Health toll-free at 1-877-644-9992 or visit http://www.seniors.alberta.ca/seniors/property-tax-deferral.html.

If making lump-sum payments at tax is difficult, you might consider enrolling in our convenient monthly Tax Instalment Prepayment Plan (TIPP). By enrolling in TIPP, you’ll reduce your tax bill with a one-per-cent annual discount credit on your prepaid balance, and your property taxes will be paid in 10 automated monthly instalments from Aug. 1 through May 1. You can enrol in TIPP in person at city hall or online at: http://www.lethbridge.ca/taxes.

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One of the items on the city council meeting agenda is a presentation from a local Reconciliation Sub-Committee that was established in 2016 to consider ways for our municipality and our community to respond meaningfully to the calls for action contained in the report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

This committee includes broad representation from Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, and I believe our community can be proud of the important work they are doing. I look forward to hearing from the sub-committee about the implementation plan they’ve developed to foster relationships, to provide opportunities for all of us to gain new awareness and understanding of the harm caused by residential schools in Canada, and to provide opportunities for healing.

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The most recent unemployment figures from Statistics Canada indicate that our region continues to perform well economically. In May the unemployment rate for the Lethbridge-Medicine Hat region was 5.9 per cent, 2.5 per cent lower than the provincial unemployment rate.

During the period of economic uncertainty that much of our province has endured, our diverse economy in the Lethbridge area has helped us retain jobs and continue a steady pattern of growth.

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On a final note, I would like to acknowledge the passion and, at times, robust debate that all members of city council recently put into the development of our new 2018-2027 Capital Improvement Program (CIP). We were clear at the outset of the process that funding was limited and that there weren’t enough dollars available to fund another major capital project at this time. Although some members of our community are disappointed that some major projects received only partial funding, sufficient to get them designed and shovel-ready, the reality is that funding construction of these projects in the new CIP would have required additional tax increases.

Chris Spearman is the mayor of Lethbridge. His column appears monthly.

3 Responses to “roperty taxes and public services”

  1. biff says:

    the issues expressed by many are that: council rubber stamps most everything that our ridiculously overpaid city managers “suggest”; the city appears to typically over pay for virtually every contract and its employees; we pay an additional annual road tax of 125-odd dollars – because the street one lives on HAS NOT BEEN REPAVED!; the city spends money on narrow interest building projects and groups while generally disregarding what the majority use or care most about; the city funds new projects, creating more infrastructure needs going forward, while not looking after existing infrastructure; the city has squandered an awful lot of money through carelessness and possibly illegal activity…. consequently, competence and honesty and transparency would be well served by regular audits from a reputable outside firm. i wonder, as well: do committees when they meet still over-order large amounts of catered food, at tax payer expense, and take the “leftovers” home?

  2. Mike says:

    On a national basis Lethbridge is far more solvent and realistic about most aspects of its budget than most. Our taxes are high but reflect the levels of service repeated polls have shown that the public wants. Many other cities have high debt and wish for federal and provincial bailouts for salvation. Taxes in most debt ridden cities are simply too low.
    I remain very uncomfortable with current contracting policies that reward public serva nts with high wages pensions and benefits that private industries have all but abandoned.
    It ain t over yet.

  3. Montreal13 says:

    Somehow they always forget to mention that you can appeal your property tax assessment. There is a kangaroo court available. But it is worth it for the education . And some people actually win. If more people appealed instead of just complained mayor and council would have to take notice. Start collecting data now for next year. Check real estate info for properties that sell in your area similar to your own property. Go on the city’s tax site and compare. Take notes. Don’t let city staff and mayor and council put you off when you call or email about it. That is how they win so easily year after year. Get them to show you comparables. If ANY doubt go thru the appeal process available at city hall.
    The city will be especially in a panic for money next year. They can only hide so much hidden fees and taxes and increase utility bills . Next year they know it will be 3 more years before we can fire them and they hope we will forget by then.

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