Thursday, April 30, 2015

Taxation: Market Value Assessment

Here's my first of a series of blogs on municipal taxation.  I am writing these to address a concern by a citizen at last Monday's Town Hall Meeting.

The biggest source of income for all municipalities in Alberta is property taxation.  Every year, each municipality goes through a complicated procedure to figure out how much each property holder in that municipality will pay in property taxes.  Here are the steps;

Assessment:  First, the municipality must establish how much each property is worth so it may be taxed accordingly.  A few years ago, the Alberta provincial government insisted that the municipalities go to a system called "Market Value Assessment" aka MVA.  That means that each property would be assessed based on what the owner might get, if he were to sell it on the market today.

That works in larger municipalities, where many properties are bought and sold each year - but for small communities like ours, assessors must rely on a formula based on the selling price of similar properties in other similarly sized communities.  I think this system is seriously flawed --because finding a municipality exactly like ours is next to impossible.

Another problem with the MVA is the hardship it creates with seniors on a fixed income.  In Calgary, middle-class homes purchased in the 1950s and 1960s are now considered "inner city," and are assessed at millions of dollars!  Their assessments are so high, that those seniors who bought those homes 50 years ago can't afford the $500/month in property taxes.  They are priced out of their own homes and forced to move!

Larger municipalities can afford to have a "tax department," which can assess properties and handle any appeals.  Smaller communities like Beiseker have to hire an assessment company to do our assessments.

Every property owner will receive a assessment notice, usually in the spring of each year.  Property owners can appeal their assessment -- although there is a fee to do that. Property owners cannot appeal their taxes, only their assessments.

After all the assessments are completed, the assessors send the municipality a Total Assessment figure.  That represents what they think the total worth of the municipality.

Stay tuned tomorrow to find out how the municipality uses that figure to decide how much you pay in property taxes.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Excellent Turnout at our Spring Town Hall Meeting!

I was very impressed with the number of citizens who came out to our Spring Town Hall Meeting!  It was good to see!  After a short regular meeting of Council we opened the floor for questions from those assembled.  Topics addressed included streets, frost boils, the Bassano Station, storm water drainage, taxes, illegally parked vehicles, cluttered laneways, sidewalk construction, and house numbers.  I think we on council answered the questions fairly and accurately. 

One ratepayer had a question about mill-rates, assessments,  and taxes.  I realized that he might not be alone in his misunderstanding of that relationship.  We will try to clarify that issue before our tax notices come out, later this spring.

I was impressed by the numbers of citizens who came to Beiseker's defense when one citizen told us that our village was a terrible place to live.  Us five councilors and our village staff members  were moved by those positive comments that followed, and the applause they generated.  I think now we'll work harder to make our village an even better place to live.

I'm looking into some of the other inquiries made last night, and I will try to provide answers to you here, on Facebook, or in the Mainline Express newsletter.

Thank you all for coming!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Questions for the Candidates: Health, Education and Social Services

This last question is about 'HESS.'  In my view, every time our provincial government wants to tighten the belt, they start by reducing funding to Health, Education and Social Services!  Funding for these three areas is hard enough as it is, but tougher times make it almost impossible.
  • Plans for new or upgraded health facilities are put on hold or dropped completely.
  • Funds to school divisions are frozen or reduced even though student populations are ever-increasing.
  • Health workers, social workers and teachers are asked to accept reduced or frozen salaries even though their jobs are becoming more difficult.
  • Funding for new neighborhood school construction is years (sometimes decades!) behind the identified need for the facility. 
Question #5:  If your party forms Alberta's next government, how will it maintain needed funding to Health, Education, and Social Services while addressing these tough economic times?

Friday, April 24, 2015

Questions for the Candidates: Heritage Savings Trust Fund

Back more than forty years ago, then-new Progressive Conservative Premier Peter Lougheed created the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund.

The fund was designed to be an investment in Alberta's future, and make funds available for those "rainy days" which occasionally strike this province.  I fully supported this fund, but I've never heard a definition of what would qualify as a "rainy day!"  By my calculation, we've had a couple of "rainy days" over the past few years yet I don't believe  the Fund was used to help any Albertans though those rough times.

We've heard the Prentice PCs talk about strengthening the Heritage Trust Fund, but I'd like to know what the other parties would do.

Question #4;  If your party forms Alberta's next government, what are you going to do with our Heritage Trust Fund and who and how will decide how it is spent,and by what criteria? 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Questions for the Candidates: Economic Diversification & Foreign Ownership

Question #3 addresses economic diversification.  This tends to be something I believe is important.

All parties in Alberta have paid lip service to the idea that our economy must move away from its dependence on petroleum.  But I have yet to hear of anything concrete.

I also fear that any attempt to develop other sources of revenue in our province, especially those exploiting natural resources, will end up in the same hopeless mess that petroleum is in now.

Even though Alberta's gas and oil reserves are found beneath our feet, we have little or no control over its exploitation and distribution. I see most of our petroleum industry owned and controlled by foreign interests.  The price Albertans pay for gasoline processed from our Alberta oil is seemingly decided by folks in Houston, Denver, and Beijing -- not Calgary.

Oil companies take home some huge profits from our oil and gas reserves, higher than almost everywhere else in the world!  What's to prevent any new industries, created to diversify our economy, from going the same way?

Question #3;  If your party forms Alberta's next government, how will you ensure that your efforts to diversify our economy will not turn into another foreign ownership fiasco like the petroleum industry?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Questions for the Candidates: Tangible Capital Assets

Today, I have a question for the provincial candidates in Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills about Tangible Capital Assets

For the last few years, Alberta municipalities have had to include a list of all their Tangible Capital Assets (TCAs) and the depreciation of those assets when building next year's budget.  For large municipalities, this isn't a hardship - but for smaller ones it can really hurt.

Let's say a town of 1500 Albertans wants a new public building.  They are given a provincial grant to build a multi-million dollar facility in their town.  That building must now be listed as a capital asset - and its depreciation calculated into the town's budgeting process.

According to the Municipal Government Act, the municipality cannot operate with a deficit budget, so they may have to raise taxes considerably to cover that amount - even though they didn't fund the project in the first place!  Smaller municipalities, like Beiseker, are the most vulnerable.

Question #2;  If elected as a government, will your party address this serious error in calculating a municipality's property taxes and financial status - and remove the TCA depreciation from the mix?

Monday, April 20, 2015

Rocky View Weekly on Bassano Station

In an article in the electronic version of the Rocky View Weekly posted on Monday, it mentioned that the Village of Beiseker bought the Bassano train station for $10,000. 

In fact, the Village of Beiseker has not invested any funds into the relocation and restoration of the Bassano Station project.  The Village originally supported the project in principle, but that interest has waned over the last few years.  At no time was tax payers' dollars given over to the project!

Last summer, I did volunteer some of my own time to help liaise between the various groups to see the station building finally placed on its foundation.  But again, no Village resources were involved.

By my calculations, almost half a million dollars have been spent on the project so far and with little to show for it.  Village Council has asked to meet with the Centennial Railway Museum and other interested parties in the near future to get an idea where they are going from here.  The only way that the Village of Beiseker is involved is that the project is within the Village boundaries, and the village does issue development and building permits for construction there.  That's it!

Questions for the Candidates: Airdrie Hospital

Each day this week, I will suggest a question for he candidates in Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills in the upcoming provincial election, slated for May 5th.

They are in no particular order; one is not more important that another.  But the answers are important to all of us here in this area!

Question #1;  If your party forms Alberta's next government, how does party plan to address the Airdrie Hospital debacle?

When the answer comes back, I'll be looking for specifics.  A city of 50,000+ - and growing by the day - must have a fully operational hospital!  I'm expecting to hear how they plan to revise/update the province's hospital building program to include Airdrie?  I'm also expecting to hear about a proposal for a three level plan involving the Feds, the province and the city to get things rolling.

I know times are tough financially, but the health situation in Airdrie is getting tougher by the day, too!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Community Links Open House

The Beiseker office of Community Links is having an open house on April 28th, between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.!  This should be good! 

Beiseker Community Links is in the Community Services building located in the Lions' Centennial Park at the corner of Fifth Street and Third Avenue, across the street from our Community Centre in beautiful downtown Beiseker. 

They'll have most of the service providers there for you to meet.  The Counsellor, Public Health Nurse,  Dietitian, and Parenting Consultants will be there, along with the folks from Intake Services, Seniors Outreach, and Volunteer Services!  Beiseker Community Links is making Beiseker stronger!  Come meet the people who make that happen. 

Stop in for refreshments and meet service providers in our area.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Aggie Days 2015 was Awesome!

We shut down Aggie Days on Sunday afternoon, and turned the BMO Centre from a barn back into an exhibit hall.

photo via Aggie Days on Twitter
Overall, Aggie Days 2015 was pretty awesome. During our educational component, which ran from Wednesday through Friday, 7500 students visited! That's down from its usual 10,000 students, because two school divisions we draw from were on Spring Break.

During family fun days on the weekend, we had about 16,000 visitors, each day! I'm still tired out but pleased that we were able to show so many people how important Alberta's agriculture is to this province. Aggie Days is a free event down at Stampede Park, although guests still have to pay for parking.

Most of us who operate Aggie Days are volunteers. Our payment comes from watching the faces of youngsters who were seeing a cow milked for the first time or a sheep sheared, or one of the other multitude of agricultural related activities there.

We'll start planning for Aggie Days 2016 in a couple of weeks. I hope you'll all come to see as next year! Until then, remember; If you eat, you're involved in agriculture!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Aggie Days 2015 Starts, with a Huge Crowd!

Spring is here, and so is the Calgary Stampede Aggie Days

We started Aggie Days 2015 with a super day, today.  Over 3000 students along with their teachers, parent supervisors and assistants toured around the BMO Centre at Stampede Park - that's now turned into a barn! 

They saw chickens, horses, ducks, cows, goats, sheep, and a host of other barnyard critters.  They watched cows being milked, sheep being sheered, and a number of other agricultural demonstrations.  We all had a great day!

Tomorrow, Thursday, is the second of a three day educational component.  This weekend signals the two day Aggie Days Family Fun Days. 

Come on down and see which Albertans produce the food you eat.  See you there.

As an Aggie Days volunteer, my duties carry on long after I've returned to Beiseker.  I write up the next days newsletter, which is distributed each morning at Aggie Days.  I didn't finish up until almost 9:00 p.m. - which prevented me from attending the First Annual Volunteer Appreciation Night at the Community Centre. 

I dropped in for a couple of minutes to thank Rec Coordinator Michelle Boyer for organizing the event.  I heard Deputy Mayor, Al Henuset, stepped in to bring greetings from village council and thank the volunteers for their dedication and valuable work they do in making Beiseker one of the best villages in Alberta!   

Well done everyone!  I'm looking forward to next year's appreciation and hoping it doesn't conflict with Aggie Days again.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Province and Airdrie Making a Great Start

I was very pleased to hear that the City of Airdrie and the Alberta Government have begun the initial steps in providing Airdrie with health care facilities worthy of that fast growing city.  A 24-hour emergency health care facility will be built in Airdrie using public and private money. 

I understand that the building will house 24 hour emergency clinic, doctors' offices, and medical related retail space.  Alberta Health Services will lease or buy one floor for its clinic, while doctors and retail space will occupy the other two floors of the building.   I also know that this whole project has come to fruition thanks to some local businessmen and, in a big part to a generous donation from an unknown benefactor!

This is wonderful news!   This will provide the 50,000-plus Airdrie residents - and the thousands of folks around that city - with a stop-gap facility, until the hospital is built.  

Now I'm hoping to hear soon that a site for the new Airdrie Hospital has been chosen.  I realize the hospital is quite a few years away.  Look at how long it took to create the South Health Campus in Calgary!

But that journey has now begun!  Well done Airdrie!