Clegg’s Corner – Town, county don’t deserve ‘bad guy’ roles

Chris Clegg
Editor, South Peace News
Jim Fisher used to complain bitterly about “the process”.

Oldtimers in town will remember Fisher as a town councillor. He was quite a controversial character at times, never afraid to say his piece. One time, he ruffled a few feathers when he called fluoride rat poison.

Fisher was one of many town councillors who complained that the Town of High Prairie used to get all the grief when the tax bills came out. Grumpy and dissatisfied taxpayers stormed down to the town office to pay their bill, yelling obscenities at staff.

OK, it wasn’t that bad. I exaggerate.

However, Fisher was not wrong when the constant complaint of higher taxes was heaped on the town’s doorstep. The reason was simple: sometimes, it simply wasn’t their fault.

Taxpayers need to examine their tax bills before they complain. The fact is, some years, it is the higher education tax you pay, not a higher municipal bill, and that’s the problem.

School boards don’t have to hear the taxpayers complain when they go to pay their bills. Fisher used to say school boards would be a lot more frugal with their [oops, taxpayer’s] money if they had to actually collect the taxes.

He is probably not wrong.

This year, the town will get the blame for higher taxes when it is not their fault. The municipal mill rate is rising 2.87 per cent but the education levy is rising about 10 per cent, says treasurer Terri Wiebe.

However, the “good news’ is that residential assessment has dropped so the increase in the municipal mill rate will be a wash, or perhaps a decrease for some taxpayers. Until the education tax is brought into the total tax bill calculation, that is.

Each tax bill is different. Depending on assessment of each property, you may see a slight increase, or decrease.

The process does work both ways. I remember years ago when premier Ralph Klein equalized the education tax bills throughout the province. The education bill dropped considerably in towns. High Prairie town council took advantage of the decrease in the education tax, increased the mill rate to roughly the same, then “bragged” about how they kept taxes in line.

Sheesh!

It is too easy to make a blanket statement on your tax bill accusing the town, county, or school boards for any increase. Only through a close examination of your tax bill can you arrive at a fair conclusion, taking into consideration mill rates from current and past years, and the change in assessment.

Fisher was correct in one thing, however. The town [or Big Lakes County] plays the role of the bad guy because they collect the tax bills. In itself, that is not fair.

But it’s the best system given that the alternative is to have two separate authorities collect bills. It would create needless bureaucracy and more expense which is something the taxpayer certainly doesn’t need.

Not to mention, of course, the resulting higher tax bill.

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