By Lethbridge Herald on May 11, 2020.
Lethbridge residents will have no property tax increase in 2020 after city council agreed to cancel a planned 1.82 per cent increase for this year.
Council passed the resolution by a final vote of 8-1 during Monday’s special meeting.
The vote was a one-time cancellation of about $2.8 million, which amounts to about a $42 savings per household.
Mayor Chris Spearman, who sponsored the motion, said it was something council could do within its own power to help local residents and business owners struggling with the COVID-19 situation.
Spearman said this cancellation, in addition to extending the property tax deadline until Sept. 30, and the cancellation of the BRZ levy for 2020, (See related story), would hopefully help those in Lethbridge who were struggling gain some breathing space.
“We recognize it can’t be business as usual for the City of Lethbridge,” he said, “and passing on additional tax increases this year would be very hard on businesses and property owners whose employment and income streams have been negatively affected. So what we want to do in addition to waiving late penalties for those who cannot pay their taxes at this time up to Sept. 30, we have also cancelled the (planned) tax increase. We want to minimize the burden on both residential and business taxpayers.”
Other communities have also offered additional stimulus incentives or grants to businesses and organizations whose revenue streams have been negatively affected by COVID-19. Spearman said council may or may not look at such incentive programs if there are savings to be realized through the KPMG operational review Phase 2 or the cancellation of other existing program grants due to COVID-19.
“At this time, we’re doing it one step at a time,” said Spearman. “We’re seeing what else can be identified in the future. But for 2020, it’s a zero per cent tax increase and the three-month delay for those who cannot afford to pay at this time. We haven’t received any additional information from our city manager and our administration on what the impact of potential savings are as a result of cancelling programs (due to COVID-19). So we’ll see if that information comes to light, there may be opportunities.”
Coun. Joe Mauro was the sole city council member to vote against the motion for a zero per cent tax increase in 2020. Mauro had tried to amend the motion to state if the 1.82 per cent was cancelled this year, it would not be levied back against taxpayers in 2021 and 2022 after being informed by city staff council may have to amend its four-year budget, which has two years left to run, to make up for the lost revenue.
When passing the four-year budget in 2018, council voted for four consecutive years of tax increases at 1.82 per cent per year.
As it stands now, council was informed by staff, by cancelling the planned tax increase this year councillors will blow a hole in their four-year budget which must be rectified either through future cuts or future tax increases, or risk that hole widening to $8.4 million by 2022.
Mauro had sought to make this year’s one-time emergency tax cut a permanent cut to local property taxes, and had advocated for cuts to city programs or services the next two years if that was necessary to make up the difference.
That amendment was defeated by a vote of 6-3, and thus Mauro refused to support the emergency initiative put forward by Spearman saying it wasn’t of any true benefit to taxpayers if they were simply going to be asked to pay more next year.
Coun. Belinda Crowson reminded Mauro and other councillors that she had already tabled a motion to debate changes to the four-year tax plan for next Monday’s regular council meeting, at which time Mauro’s concerns could be brought forward and potentially addressed.
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