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Town of Innisfail's special tax process forces apology

Mayor ‘frustrated’ by push back from industrial area property owners
MVP 61 Avenue sign 2021
Town council considered repealing the Special Tax Bylaw for 61st Avenue property owners on July 26 after staff apologized for technical mistakes but decided instead to have administration find out what the property owners' intent is before taking any action. Johnnie Bachusky/MVP Staff

INNISFAIL – The problematic special tax issue for 61st Avenue property owners in the town’s southwest West Gate Industrial Park has become messy, with the town’s chief administrative officer apologizing over technical bylaw mistakes and council nearly voting to scrap it.

However, council ultimately backed off on the idea of repealing the bylaw at its regular meeting on July 26. Todd Becker, the town’s town chief administrative officer, was then directed to find out from local lawyer Chad Evans what remedy his client property owners are looking for. Becker will be back to council on Aug. 9 to give his report.

Ironically, council in a separate discussion, also had to deal and pass a motion to bring in a Special Tax Bylaw in 2022 for the reconstruction of 37th Street, which is also located in West Gate Industrial Park.

“It’s a little frustrating. We have spent a lot of money in the industrial area and improving in the last three or four years,” said mayor Jim Romane following the council meeting. “It’s coming to a head. This is improving the value of their properties with all the work we have done down there. They have to step up to the plate and pick up their tab.”

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.

However, Evans, representing the 61st Avenue property owners, sent the town a letter on June 28 stating his clients were “angry and disappointed” by not being consulted during the town’s special tax process. He added clients were not given notice of it being put into effect until receiving this year’s tax notices.

Evans also outlined several problematic issues he felt did not comply with the Municipal Government Act (MGA). He said clients’ concerns centred around the timing of the special tax, lack of consultation, and whether the levy was properly put into effect.

Evans also stated it did not appear to specify the estimated cost of the service or its purpose.

In his report to council on July 26, Becker provided background information from a staff report in spring that detailed “advanced communication” with property owners, and with one exception, their satisfaction the project was proceeding.

Becker conceded there were “technical challenges” with some sections of the bylaw that did not meet the standards set by the MGA. These included the bylaw not referencing specific service or purpose and estimated cost.

“From an administrative perspective my apologies to you for not quite nailing down that bylaw and some of the challenges that are presented for you,” Becker told council.

He later added in an interview with The Albertan he’s ultimately responsible for what is delivered to council even it he “not talking to it.

“Administration didn’t quite have the bylaw nailed down as it reads to the MGA, and my apologies to council to give them information that wasn’t quite meeting the requirements of our legislation,” said Becker.

His report offered council three options to consider. Council could amend the bylaw to state specific service or purpose and estimated cost. Council could also repeal the bylaw and return all levies and ensure all future annual special tax bylaws comply with the MGA. If that was chosen the town would have to wait until next year to pass a new special tax bylaw when the annual tax mil rate bylaw is brought to council.

The original 15-year tax payment plan would then have to be recalculated for years 2 to 15, or adjusted to a 14-year term. Becker also told council another option was to just leave this year’s bylaw alone and go forward and ensure compliance with the MGA.

With most council members ready to repeal the bylaw, Coun. Danny Rieberger said he was not “100 per cent” convinced all objecting property owners wanted that action.

“I think maybe they were looking for clarification,” said Rieberger. “I am struggling reading this (Evans) letter to find out what they were really asking, and for it to be repealed. I wish it was clearer what they were asking for in the letter.”

Council then opted to direct Becker to find out more about the “intent” of 61st Avenue property owners, whether they just wanted clarification, or the bylaw repealed and tax money returned.

“We indicated to them we were looking at cost recovery of some sort and not too much was said,” Romane said on July 26 before Becker was given direction.

“I am a little bit disappointed. It seems like we are just gouging these guys and we’re not. We are doing something that’s done normally in other municipalities all the time.”

 



Johnnie Bachusky

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