EXSHAW – The MD of Bighorn will explore providing municipal tax relief for all homes in east Exshaw that experienced groundwater flooding earlier this year.
After nine homeowners requested tax relief to elected officials in the municipal district, council voted to refer the issue to its finance committee to consider how to provide support to everyone affected.
"I know it cannot be easy to publicly state that you need financial assistance and a reduction on your tax bill, yet they did so," said Exshaw Councillor Paul Ryan during the July council meeting.
"Certainly they are in some sort of financial stress and clearly they need help. We as a municipality are able to provide relief."
In early June, homes along in the eastern end of the hamlet saw groundwater rise in their basements to unusually high levels, prompting the municipality to hire an independent consultant to investigate the cause after many expressed concerns it was connected to recently completed flood mitigation in Exshaw Creek. An estimated 60 of the total 250 homes in Exshaw were affected – 25 per cent of community.
Combined with the pandemic and economic crisis of COVID-19, homeowners along Mount McGillivary and Pigeon Mountain Drive have experienced additional financial stress due to the flooding. Several letters included in the council agenda package expressed those financial concerns and requested council consider providing municipal tax relief, which is permitted under the Municipal Government Act.
Vicki Fleetwood and Brent Peters were among those who shared their experience with elected officials. The self-employed homeowners said they returned from the Selkirk Mountains on March 21 to a significantly changed Canada due to the coronavirus.
Working in the tourism industry with their businesses PeakSTRATAGEM AND PeakEATS, they said their guiding and food contracts for the rest of the season were cancelled and deposits returned to clients. They said combined with the unprecedented, and unexplained, groundwater flooding, it has been a financial disaster.
"We are concerned not only about property value, but also about the very tenability of our residence," wrote Fleetwood and Peters in a June 29 letter. "We have been living without running water and natural gas heat for more than a month. We have spent hundreds of hours moving effects and pumping water and thousands of dollars on changing the basement situation of a house that was built in 1957."
Coun. Lisa Rosvold said she would like to have a more comprehensive understanding on the effects of the groundwater flooding on all homes, not just those that formally requested tax relief.
"I feel it would be in council's best interest to refer this to the finance committee to seek clarity and make support consistent and equitable for everyone," Rosvold said.
Coun. Paul Clarke noted that equitable municipal tax relief in the MD of Bighorn might want to take into consideration the financial burden being experienced by ratepayers in his ward.
He said assessments increased substantially for property owners in his ward, which led to increased taxes.
"If we start forgiving taxes for one area, it will soon get around," Clarke said, adding he expects that could prompt additional requests for municipal tax relief. "My position is that it should be across the board in the municipality."
If approved, the tax relief would only apply to the municipal portion of the annual property tax bill. The provincial education requisition would not be changed.
The groundwater levels also prompted a boil water advisory on June 4 for all homes that use well water, which still remains in place as of Wednesday (July 22). In order to prevent sewage from the wastewater treatment plan backing up into local homes, the MD of Bighorn also released waste material in the Bow River at the beginning of June.