June 18th, 2024

Residents should brace for property tax increases


By Lethbridge Herald on October 22, 2022.

LEAVE IT TO BEEBER
Al Beeber
Lethbridge Herald

Two weeks of chainsawing my leg, walking the dog and napping came to an end Monday when work beckoned once again.

The two-week break was the longest I’ve taken in recent memory and I accomplished pretty much everything on my should-do list. The yard work is done except for bagging leaves since none have fallen from my Swedish columnars. And my leg is recovering from the wound I suffered just as I was telling myself how careful I was being with the tool I used to trim all the shrubs and bushes.

Just after paying one photo radar ticket, I’m sure I got hit with a big one on the Crowsnest Trail which should offset some of the lost $1.2 million in photo radar revenue the City has experienced. You’re welcome.

Budget deliberations were the focus of much of my time this week with city council acting in its role as Economic Standing Policy committee.

Council wlll be making the tough decisions on the budget in November from the 14th to 18 as our civic government comes up with a four-year operating plan.

Nobody wants to hear about paying more taxes but that’s going to be a reality this year. So far, the minimum forecast increase will be 3.77 per cent annually over the next four years, which amounts to $94.20 a year per single family dwelling based on an average market value of $285,800.  On a monthly basis that amounts to $7.85 per household by my calculations. 

This is roughly the equivalent of two fancy craft IPAs or a venti vanilla whatchamacalllit per month. 

However, as we learned this week it is unlikely we will be paying only that much more  for each of the next four years but we aren’t alone. Other communities across the province are in the same situation.

Given inflation along with higher utility and fuel costs, a tax increase should catch absolutely nobody by surprise. 

We residents haven’t faced an increase on the municipal part of our taxes since 2019 so inevitably we were going to pay more eventually. 

And that amount could be a shock. Perhaps it would be less if councils had risked furor and hiked taxes even slightly for the last three years but everything always looks more clear in hindsight, right? 

The pandemic hit the economy hard so council gave residents a break to help us out and I for one appreciate that.

But higher taxes are an inevitability and council, you can bet, has heard loudly and clearly from residents what they think about that. 

They’ve also heard a lot of wants and needs from community groups and City departments which made submissions to council acting as Economic SPC this fall.

Council has asked a lot of tough questions about requests for funding and are doing their due diligence on behalf of taxpayers to determine actual needs versus wants. 

Community organizations and city departments are asking for a lot of money from council which has a tough job ahead trying to determine what the City can’t live without and what it can’t afford to fund.

They really have an unenviable job because no matter what mayor and council decide they’re going to be slagged on social media, by telephone or in public. 

Increasing taxes will make critics more angry, especially those who live on fixed incomes and are struggling to make ends meet.

The requests of two City departments may particularly be a focus of council – police and fire. Both have made clearcut cases why they need more funding. These aren’t wants, they are real needs to address the problems that exist in a growing city.

We got some flak here this week over a story I wrote on the budget allocator tool that stated a majority of respondents don’t want increased police funding, which to me is a head-scratcher to be honest. 

Certain people think we should have lumped those who want the status quo into those who want more funding and say a majority don’t want funding cut.

If we had done that, the defund-the-police crowd could have argued the status quo people should have been added to their figures to argue that even more people don’t want extra funding for the police.

We honestly can’t win on this one. 

What should be clear from the public safety issues being endured here,  city police need to be thrown a life raft full of cash to help them combat growing crime and deal with the fallout from the cut previous council made to their budget. Fire/EMS Services have also made a strong case that they are under-staffed, as well. 

Community concerns about safety and EMS are no strangers to council which has a lot of weight on their collective shoulders.

If they don’t raise taxes high enough, some organizations and departments won’t get the money and staff they need to operate. If they’re too generous with taxpayer money, residents are going to cry foul, claiming some funding is unecessary.

It’s been succinctly pointed out that if the City wants to continue offering the services it does while addressing future needs, more money will have to be raised from taxpayers.

Like everyone else, I don’t like spending money when I don’t have to and any budget hikes will hit my bottom line like everyone else’s, including city council members.

The public had a chance earlier this fall with that aforementioned budget allocator tool to pick which departments they would prefer their tax dollars to go to and it was an interesting exercise. The results were presented to council earlier this week in a report which is available on the City’s website. I found the tool to be really interesting because it gives a person an idea what kind of thought process has to go into creating a budget.

Do you give one department every dollar it wants, a bit more, or less? It was tough enough for me to come up with a figure I could live with – I just can’t fathom the work, effort and head-scratching city council and administrators have to go through when they try to crunch the numbers in a way that will be  palatable to taxpayers.

But it’s a job they have taken on and by Nov. 29, we should find out what our tax increase will actually look like for the next four years and what city council – after listening to submissions and studying the hard work administration has done preparing a preliminary budget – feels are the community’s biggest priorities. 

They won’t make everyone happy because they have tough decisions to make like councils in every community across the province. 

Their job is not for the faint of heart and they will have to be prepared to take their punches like Rocky Balboa when those final numbers come out.

Stay tuned.

Follow @albeebHerald on Twitter.

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