By Jensen, Randy on April 22, 2020.
If the City hopes to offer residents property tax relief during the COVID-19 crisis, it is pretty much on its own as the province will not be offering any additional funds to backstop municipal tax relief plans.
Mayor Chris Spearman spoke with provincial officials on these matters on April 16, who confirmed no further provincial dollars for residential tax relief will be forthcoming.
This severely limits what the City can do to help local residents and businesses looking for tax deferral help, explained Mayor Chris Spearman at Monday’s city council meeting.
“We were under the impression the government of Alberta might be assisting municipalities in some ways,” stated Spearman. “But It is only on the education portion of the property tax. They have cancelled their planned increase of the Education Property Tax and they have allowed a deferral for non-residential customers only. That deferral would go until Oct. 1, but there is nothing else.
“So the balance of municipal taxes would have to either be levied as planned or else any deferrals would be at the expense to local taxpayers,” Spearman added. “If we incurred additional debt or we exercised our line of credit and incurred additional costs, then those costs would be the responsibility of the municipality and we wouldn’t be compensated for those by the province.”
Referring to the recommendations of Lethbridge Region Economic Recovery Task Force from the April 6 council meeting, Spearman acknowledged this falls well short of what local residents and business leaders had hoped.
The Task Force, headed by the Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Lethbridge, had said up to a third of local businesses might not survive the month if municipal, provincial or federal relief funding was not expedited.
Council will discuss its tax options and decide what to do at the Special Council Meeting on May 11. Spearman said likely late penalties on property taxes could be suspended until Oct. 1, and council would have to decide whether or not to go ahead with a planned tax increase of 1.86 per cent in this year’s budget.
“We are going to have to look carefully about what we might do, and there will be some motions coming forward such as deferral of penalties until after Oct. 1. In terms of any other deferrals, our options are quite limited due to the fact we have ongoing costs at the City,” he confirmed.
Spearman said any decisions on property tax relief would likely come with more debt incurred by the City and a greater debt burden to local taxpayers going forward. That, he said, also must be kept in perspective when councillors are debating whether or not to suspend local property tax increases on May 11.
He admitted there were advocates in the community who have stated to councillors they feel there should be no local tax increases while the COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing.
“We have heard that concern,” Spearman acknowledged. “We hear that concern from businesses and that will be part of the debate in two weeks.”
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