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Improvement levy creating hardships for Winnifred property owners

Posted on December 14, 2023 by Ryan Dahlman

Winnifred property owners have now been informed by the County of Forty Mile of the terms of payment that will be required of them when the Local Improvement Levy is applied to their property tax bill.

The latest letter, this time from County Administrator Keith Bodin, wherein he refutes the previous letter from Utilities Manager Stuart Payne, which had refuted the previous letter from Director of Finance Kerri Buis.

We have now been advised in this third letter from County, that rather than the 20 year term offered up by Director of Finance or the 15 – 20 year term suggested by Stuart Payne we are now being told “… the term of the loan with the Government of Alberta will be 10 (ten) years…..” with a floating interest rate.

With the very large amount of the Levy, this will mean an enormous increase in the annual property tax for some property owners.

For example, a family that has a modest older home with two extra vacant lots has received a tax bill for this Levy of $19,723 for $2,470 per year for 10 years, on top of a property tax bill of $750.

This family has worked for many years developing and improving their home and yard. These folks, now in retirement seeking to enjoy their property and the fruits of their labour are now faced with a difficult choice. Do they endure the hardship of paying this huge tax increase out of their fixed income and hope that interest rates don’t rise and cause them to lose it anyway, or do they try to sell off a piece of the place or sell their beloved hard earned home altogether?

They need to decide quickly because if a property owner cannot pay the Levy in full, after just two years the County will confiscate their property and even put them out of their home.

The decision to amortize payments over 10 years was taken unilaterally by the County without consulting and informing Winnifred property owners, even though Reeve Barrows provided assurances to us in the County Commentator Oct 31, 2023 that we will be included.

This sort of taxation without representation, governance by decree, is anathema for our free and democratic way of life.

County officials’ advice to property owners concerned by the high cost of this project, is to “sell your property” as it is the County’s desire to spur development in Winnifred.

I believe it is improper to use municipal taxation powers to manipulate the market by coercing property owners to sell or give up their property. The County should strive to make whole those property owners that fall victim to this unsavoury tactic.

We have no way to know if this latest tax notice and invoice are correct because the County has provided no collaborations despite my repeated requests for such.

Given the County’s track record on this project thus far, it is not possible to have faith these numbers are correct.

When you take taxpayers money, transparency is expected.

Eric Musekamp, Bow Island

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