City of Lacombe to explore freezing property tax rate in 2020 Operating Budget

City of Lacombe council and staff talk with residents at the annual Lacombe Trade Show at the Gary Moe Auto Group Sportsplex in April. Ashli Barrett / Lacombe Globe

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The City of Lacombe will take a look at freezing property tax rates – or at least the possibility of lowering them from the current 1.4 per cent rate in the proposed 2020 Operating Budget.

Councillor Reuben Konnik made the motion, which passed unanimously at their regular meeting Tuesday, to look at options for reducing the tax rate, citing the economic climate in Alberta and looming cuts in the provincial budget as cause to “do better” for residents.

“We’re in a bit of a tough economic situation in the province as a whole. Something our citizens have repeatedly asked for is to tow the line on property taxes and they keep up and I think it’s high time we at least try and take a look at a zero per cent tax increase,” said Konnik. “It’s certainly doable and I’d like to see what that looks like and see if we can pull it off.”

Under the proposed budget’s 1.4 per cent rate, the average house assessed at $380,000 would be taxed an additional $42.07, and account for an additional $207,175 for the city. While Konnik called keeping tax rate increases aligned with that of inflation “commendable,” he also said the constant increases, no matter how minimal they may be, add up, Konnik believes council owes it to ratepayers to explore the idea of bringing the increase down.

In addition to looking at a zero per cent increase, he also asked administration to look at what a 0.9 per cent increase would look like, noting it would be the first time in nine years the City of Lacombe would have gotten a tax rate increase under one per cent.

While Coun. Chris Ross expressed concern over council having cut services already, from the elimination of BOLT Transit effective Fall 2020, as well as the elimination of residential recycling pickup, not to mention provincial budget cuts, Konnik said it was all the more reason to at least look at holding the line on tax rate increases, and shirked the notion they’d have to cut service levels in the city further.

“We can shave our COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) a little bit and make it work, maybe transfer a little less into reserves, but those are just my suggestions,” he said. “I think there are a few other areas, perhaps, we could still trim…I don’t think there will be other service level cuts.”

During the Oct. 28-29 budget workshops, council chose to freeze their own wages, but increases in wages and benefits for city staff are proposed to increase by 1.4 per cent or $44,447. A 1.4 per cent COLA has been budgeted for police administration, while police wages are set to increase 1.75 per cent as per their collective agreement.

Utility rates

Meanwhile, utility rates are also expected to increase. Franchise fees for Fortis and Atco are increased 3.62 per cent, while utility rates will also see a 1.4 per cent increase. The average house receiving weekly garbage pickup and consuming 18 cubic metres of water will see an increase of $1.73 per month.

Council also explored what the budget would look theoretically if curbside recycling were to continue with no changes to compost management. Administration said solid waste rates would be 20 per cent higher than budgeted,

Community group grant funding

Also in the updated budget presented was decisions made on grants to organizations in the community following Sept. 23 and Oct. 7 presentations.

The Lacombe and District Chamber of Commerce was perhaps the most impacted, reduced to zero grant funding from an ask of $13,650. In recent years, the chamber has received between $12,500 and $15,000 from the city.

ECHO Lacombe, as requested, will see a decrease of $6,000 from $12,000, while the Rikubetsu society is seeing a slight $150 decrease.

In looking into reducing property tax increases, CAO Matthew Goudy says the city won’t look to make further cuts to community groups and find efficiencies and cost saving in other areas, such as long-term capital expenditures.

“We will avoid that,” he said.

The next regular council meeting will be on Nov. 25 at 5 p.m. in council chambers.

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