By Lethbridge Herald on October 27, 2018.
Mike Mahon and Paula Burns
Lethbridge College and the University of Lethbridge are proud of our local roots. Each institution benefits greatly from our location and, more importantly, from the amazing support we receive from the citizens of Lethbridge and southern Alberta. In turn, we support the communities we serve in what we do. Our programs strive to meet the need for a qualified workforce and informed citizenry, and our research and creative activities support the health of our population, economic growth and diversification, and quality of life for our city and communities.
In the article “City has room to improve” that appeared in the Lethbridge Herald on Oct. 16, Mayor Chris Spearman is quoted as saying, “it was important to remember nine of 10 of Lethbridge’s major employers paid no municipal taxes — employers like AHS, Lethbridge College and the University of Lethbridge, just to name a few…”
Mayor Spearman reiterates this in his “From City Hall” column that appeared on Oct. 19, where he stated: “In Lethbridge, nine of the 10 largest employers are government entities that pay no municipal property tax, yet they benefit from the full array of municipal services we provide.”
During the 2018 tax year, the U of L paid over $357,000 in municipal taxes and Lethbridge College paid more than $214,000. In fact, since 2009, the institutions combined have contributed more than $4,400,000 in municipal taxes. Both the University of Lethbridge and Lethbridge College pay taxes on the revenue-generating business entities within our respective institutions, such as our student housing properties. The U of L also pays property taxes on the Penny Building located in downtown Lethbridge.
The articles imply that if the major employers in the city paid property taxes, then rates for homeowners would go down. What isn’t mentioned is that according to Economic Development Lethbridge, the top 10 employers, nine of which are in the public sector, employ 13,142 people, or 21 per cent of the area’s workforce — most of whom pay property taxes directly or indirectly through ownership or rent. Both the university and college attract over 10,000 students per year to Lethbridge — all of whom also pay rent or property tax. The economic impact of Lethbridge College annually is more than $427 million, while the University of Lethbridge is $1.1 billion. Lethbridge’s post-secondary institutions are economic engines for our city and region, and they contribute far more than they extract.
In Alberta, property tax exemptions are provided to qualifying properties that reflect collective priorities. The usual basis for determining this is the facility’s accessibility and the public benefit that arises from its use. Typical exemptions include organizations providing services related to government, education, charity, religion, culture and historic preservation. This includes government, churches, hospitals and schools, including post-secondary institutions.
We appreciate the challenges and complications our mayor and city councillors face in balancing revenue and services the city provides to its citizens with the interest of taxpayers, both residential and commercial, in keeping rates affordable and competitive. However, we encourage them to keep two things in mind. First — both institutions do pay taxes on revenue-generating portions of their organizations — more than half a million dollars worth last year, in fact. And second and more important, we would hope that the mayor and council would recognize and celebrate the diverse and vast economic, cultural and creative contributions these institutions and their people make to Lethbridge and the region, helping to nurture and build this thriving, educated, engaged and growing city.
Mike Mahon is President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lethbridge; Paula Burns is President and CEO of Lethbridge College.