Editorial – It’s nature’s way

Jeff Burgar
So, how does your community get to be the highest taxed town of its size in Alberta?

Some days, it’s just manmade issues, like cleaning up old roads and sewer pipes. That’s a problem right across North America.

It could be a government thing, like back a decade ago when High Prairie paid more than 40 per cent of its taxes for police.

There are bad, and there are good. Like High Prairie owning its own natural gas distribution system, that used to make a profit to keep taxes low. These days, not so much, though.

Remember the frog story. One does not toss a live frog into a pot of boiling water. It just jumps smartly out. The trick is put the frog in a pot of cool water, then turn up the heat. The frog likes the warming up. In fact, it likes it so much, it doesn’t even notice how hot it is getting.
Most times, according to story, and unverified by Mythbusters, the frog simply succumbs.

One could say High Prairie taxpayers were pretty well ‘frogged’ the past 15 or so years. The theory was, “it’s best to raise taxes just a little bit, even when you don’t really need the money. That way, when you really do need money, it won’t come as a big increase to the taxpayers.”

Isn’t it sweet to know your politicians are looking out for you, you poor little froggies?

So, here we are at a special budget meeting of High Prairie council May 2. The arguments back and forth are simple. “Frog” the taxpayers with a little bit of heat this year, or hit them with the boiling water next year? In the end, council decided the frog route was the most pleasant. Tax rates [municipal mill rates] are going up.

It doesn’t really need to be said this is the same ol’ same ol’ pattern right across governments everywhere. Tighten the screws just a bit. Turn up the heat just a bit. Then one day, everybody is ‘shocked’ when they are told they have uncompetitive taxes. Or the highest taxes in Alberta. Or like corporate America, the highest taxes in the world.

As it happens, High Prairie town council has done a wonderful job the past few years reining in the spending. From being the highest taxed town in Alberta, High Prairie is now just on the high end. It didn’t take much work. Apparently though, the low-hanging fruit of easy cost savings is gone.

But the good news is, even though the tax rate is going up, spending at city hall is still holding the line. There is no net increase in spending. In fact, spending has now held the line for three years in a row.

The problem is, property values in High Prairie have actually gone down. So the tax rate has to go up to keep the same amount of money rolling in. Which, of course, means when property values take an upward turn, more money comes in. That’s when politicians should drop the tax rate.

Should, yes. But what the heck, it’s only froggies in the pot suffering. What they don’t know won’t hurt them, right?

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