CANMORE – Canmore homeowners could soon see an extra $18.84 on their property tax bill each month.
The Town’s finance committee recommended to council a 12.5 per cent tax increase, which is based on 2021 property assessments of an average home valued at $800,000, which would translate to roughly an extra $226 in 2023.
Mayor Sean Krausert called it a “tough budget year” and not something that council took lightly at any point in budget talks.
“We are facing expenses out of our control and third-party contracts, inflation and rising interest rates that equated to our status quo budget with some cuts and trimmings along the way being a 12.5 per cent increase to our budget we’re taxing for. That’s hard," said the mayor.
"I don’t think anyone in administration likes to raise taxes. I don’t think anyone on council likes to raise taxes, but it is a fact we’re in a constantly changing and evolving world that we’re operating and responding to decisions previously made and holding back on some costs in past years does not mean those costs go away – and we have to deal with them.”
Krausert cautioned people from solely looking at the percentage increase because other municipalities may have a smaller number, but the same or greater dollar increase. He added any potential increase can impact homeowners, but that the services provided by the Town bring value to the community.
“Affordability is a major concern in our community and I, nor anyone else here, takes $20 a month lightly,” he said. “I do recognize that we do get good value for our dollars and the amount of programs and services that are able to be provided with the amount we tax is probably some of the best value for dollar out of any of the bills we each have to face on a monthly basis.”
While all of council sits on finance committee, there could still be adjustments or amendments to the budget when it returns for council consideration Dec. 20.
In the span of six meetings throughout November, finance committee and senior Town staff spent close to 22 hours discussing the 2023-24 budget.
At the initial meeting, Town staff presented to council the impact of going ahead with a zero per cent increase in 2020 to help the impacts of COVID-19. It left a $1.2 million deficit, which staff estimated would have allowed them to bring forward a 10.9 per cent increase this year.
Town staff also warned against the regular shortfall of reserve contributions – to the tune of about $850,000 a year – one that was brought up multiple times in the budget meetings.
“At some day you have to pay. It’s better to change our way sooner than later because it’s a bigger hit the more you put it off,” Krausert said, adding the reserves are about $7 million short in expected contributions based on the municipality's policies.
Both the Fortis and ATCO fees are likely to increase. Fortis fees would be set at 16 per cent starting in 2024 and continue with a two per cent increase every other year until hitting the maximum 20 per cent in 2030. The ATCO fees would be set to the maximum 35 per cent in 2024. The average residential Fortis bill will increase from $8.54 a month to $11.71 a month, while ATCO would have a $31 a year increase to $219.
The fees are based on consumption, however, and once the fees begin to increase, the revenue will be funnelled into climate action initiatives and the asset rehabilitation reserve. Revenue from fees would be $3.39 million in 2023 and soar by nearly 25 per cent to 4.246 million in 2024.
The increase, if approved by council, would not only impact property owners but also renters, schools, churches and federal and provincial government properties that would otherwise not pay property taxes.
When combining the averages of property taxes and franchise fees, the recommended budget heading to council would see an increase of $295. However, each property and user will have unique bills based on property size and energy consumption.
“I know there may be some who disagree with maximizing our ability to charge fees on these two utilities, but I think it’s really important that the community understand we have very limited abilities to bring in revenue,” Coun. Tanya Foubert said. “This fee is based on consumption and money that we collect we have dedicated to using sustainability and climate change initiatives and that makes it very supportable.”
A one-year $71,000 community tax-funded evaluator position was recommended to go forward. Town staff will also return to council with recommendations for potential changes to the Safe park program.
Town staff will also return to council with more information on the costs that come with a car share program, while a revised motion to have $17,500 from taxes go to Community Social Development to assist with increasing participation and accessing the Town’s affordable services program was also approved.
Town staff will also re-examine the requisition for Canmore Community Housing and return to council in the fall of 2023 for a potential update to the 2024 budget to align with programs or priorities.
The Quarry Lake jumping platform was approved at $200,000, but half would come from a donation already received and the remainder from the paid parking reserve.
An attempt to move the Boulder Crescent Depot design project to 2024 failed, with Foubert and Graham the lone supporters.
Foubert said the province’s Extended Producer Responsibility could see potential impacts on the project and it was better to hold off a year until more information was available. She added large items collected often end up at the landfill and more time could see a better program leading to reductions in waste.
Whitney Smithers, the Town’s general manager of infrastructure, said part of the redesign is for user safety, especially when operations vehicles are in the depot, and that the EPR program has many unknowns at the moment which could also leave the Town in a positive position.
The biggest add was using $113,000 from the paid parking reserve to assist with the Roam transit requisition.
Earlier in the budget talks, it was highlighted roughly $3.53 million in provincial downloading costs impacted the municipal budget.
The work will also see Krausert write a letter to the province to advocate for the Town and have staff examine ways to communicate to the public about the impacts of downloading.
Coun. Jeff Hilstad suggested potentially adding a line of provincial download costs to the property tax bill.
“The province has a $15 billion surplus and we have to increase taxes,” Graham said.
“This is a significant portion of our budget and we continue to see these downloads and at some point in time you have to push back and say enough is enough.”
Krausert noted the municipality receives considerable funding from the province and wanted to ensure any information was used to better advocate for municipalities.
“Canmore, like all municipalities, have suffered from provincial downloading in one form or another. And yet at the same time we’re reliant on funding from the province and we’re looking for a good deal and we’re advocating for things,” he said.
“It makes for potentially an awkward exchange. I would not want this to be seen as a club or something used to bash the province. I’d rather it be seen as a statement of fact as part of a conversation that it’s part of our reality that we are funding so many things that are out of our control or left to us.”
POTENTIAL MUNICIPAL TAX INCREASE
2023: 12.5 per cent
2024: 5.5 per cent
2025: 5.6 per cent
2026: 3.1 per cent
ESTIMATED OPERATIONAL EXPENDITURES
2022: $61.5 million
2023: $68 million
2024: $72 million
**CORRECTION: The original article incorrectly stated Couns. Wade Graham and Jeff Mah voted against the one-year community evaluator position. They voted against the Quarry Lake jumping platform. The article has been updated to reflect this. The Outlook apologizes for the error.**