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June 2017 Mayor Column

​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 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, 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 August 1 through May 1. You can enroll in TIPP in person at City Hall or online at: 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 or 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.