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Pause on 61st Avenue special tax is over

Town of Innisfail moving forward with bylaw amendment following property owner concerns
MVP 61 Avenue Innisfail
Innisfail council is moving forward with an amendment for a first-ever Special Tax Bylaw in the southwest industrial park that will have 61st Avenue property owners pay a portion of the near-million-dollar cost of a roadway improvement project built in 2020. Johnnie Bachusky/MVP Staff

INNISFAIL – Following a brief stall to double check the desires of 61st Avenue property owners, the town will finally move forward on its challenging special tax issue for the town’s southwest West Gate Industrial Park.

The issue hit a roadblock last month when town council and administration had to deal with a letter from Chris Evans, the property owners’ lawyer, who said his clients were “angry and disappointed” by not being consulted during the town’s special tax process. He added his clients were not given notice of it being put into effect until receiving this year’s tax notices.

Todd Becker, the town’s chief administrative officer, was directed last month by council to get “clarification” from Evans about the intent of the letter, and whether his clients wanted some sort of remedy, such as reimbursement of any special taxes paid this year or any specific changes to the Special Tax Bylaw.

Becker provided a report at council’s regular meeting on Aug. 9. He said administration contacted Evans on July 27 seeking clarification of his June 28 letter. Becker said Evans told him the letter was to “confirm” that proper procedures and technical requirements of the bylaw were accurate.

“He confirmed the nature of the letter was not to be read as confrontational and that there is not a formal request for the property owners to be reimbursed. Mr. Evans stated that the property owners are leaving the matter to council's discretion,” said Becker in his report to council.

During a presentation to council on July 26, Becker apologized for “technical challenges” with some sections of the bylaw that did not meet the standards set by the Municipal Government Act (MGA). These included the bylaw not referencing specific service or purpose and estimated cost.

Becker then offered council a trio of options to consider, including amending the bylaw to state specific service or purpose and estimated cost. However, council gave the direction for him to talk to Evans for more clarification.

With that now done and settled, administration then put a recommendation to council on Aug. 9 that staff be directed to draft an amending bylaw to the 61st Avenue Special Tax Bylaw, which outlines the project’s estimated cost and specific purpose. It will be presented to council for approval on Aug. 23.

“The administration recommendation has not changed from what was presented at the July 26, 2021 council meeting,” said Becker. “The reason for administration's recommendation is that although apologetic for the bylaw not likely meeting the technical requirements of the MGA as it is currently written, the purpose of the bylaw and the rationale for the affected property owners to pay proportionate share of the project has not changed.”

Council agreed by a vote of 4 – 1 to approve the recommendation. Coun. Jean Barclay voted against it. She told The Albertan that her vote reflected concerns that more information was needed to satisfy the MGA requirements identified by staff, and that there could have been “better communication” during the bylaw process.

“I was hoping we could pause,” said Barclay.

Mayor Jim Romane, who strongly believes the town and council is on the right track with the special tax issue, emphasized 61st Avenue property owners “have to realize” the amount they were assessed was based on only 15 per cent of the overall project, and that the special tax on their property is amortized over 15 years to fully pay their portion of the overall project cost.

The mayor noted that while property owners may end up paying a total of several hundred dollars in special tax dollars over the next 15 years, the Town of Innisfail - by the time it finishes its current 37 Street reconstruction project - will have invested up to $5 million for infrastructure improvements in the southwest industrial area.

“There has been a lot of frontage improvements, including varying main power lines, new curbs and gutters, and six-inch heavy pavement roads. It has been very, very expensive and council started out having discussions with the business people before we did the project,” said Romane. “I thought it was quite clear that there would be a frontage assessment and then the engineer met with them before we did it. We have documentation that they were given an opportunity to discuss it and there should have been no secrets.”

The 61st Avenue roadway at the west side of the industrial park was upgraded in 2020 from a gravel avenue to a paved industrial collector road at a budgeted cost of $913,655.83.

Last April town council approved the 61st Avenue Special Tax Bylaw, which gave the town legal authority to collect the special tax for the next 15 years. The new bylaw must be brought back annually to council for approval.

Council agreed that $587,565 of the total $913,655.83 would be included in the calculations of the special tax.

An administration report stated 15 per cent of $587,565 worked out to $88,134.75, a total amount 10 property owners would have to pay back to the town in the 15-year agreement. This first year the property owners paid back a total of $5,800.

 



Johnnie Bachusky

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