By Justin Seward
The Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) have a few items on the list that its members would like to address in 2021.
The most notable issue is for RMA to gather some solid numbers to bring in front of the provincial government to discuss about unpaid non-residential taxes—which were all the industrial oil and gas taxes that accumulated to $173 million last year.
“This is unpaid taxes that are owed to municipalities,” said Paul McLauchlin, RMA president.
“We do not as it stands right now have the provision to get those taxes. We’ve got no legal course that’s available to us. We’re willing to work with this government to deal with unpaid taxes, and especially these are operating oil and gas companies that are not paying their municipal taxes.”
McLauchlin says the impact is huge on municipalities.
“Look, just referencing my own community, you’re looking at 10 per cent of our tax roll is unpaid right now from operating companies and that changes your (operations),” he said.
“It hasn’t caused a tax impact yet in Ponoka County. But if this continues, obviously someone has to pay—the money has to come from somewhere— and our rate payers do not want the deferral of property taxes paid by industry to actually go on to residential property taxes. We’re willing to work with the government and they’ve offered to work together to find some solutions that can allow industry to be competitive, allow them some grace under financial strains. We need to fine another solution because it’s affecting some municipalities significantly to the point that their cash flow is in some serious trouble.”
McLauchlin expects to have updated numbers by the end of the month and not see a decrease.
RMA would also like to work with the government on red tape reduction and other policy making that the province is making for municipal planning and the involvement of rural municipalities on decisions of the landscape.
RMA would like to see the best government possible in a municipal election year and educate those interested candidates on what the job is about.
“I think the province is making moves to have some plebiscites as a part of this election,” said McLauchlin.
“We’re trying to pushback back on that, but I think we’ve been unsuccessful. Provincial-wide questions are going to be a part of our municipal voting. There will be unrelated , two municipal pieces, but that’s what people will be voting (on) when they end up in the polling stations.”
RMA also wants to make sure its member municipalities have the supports necessary to come out of COVID and in making sure businesses and the agriculture industry are moving forward.
“And making sure that we come out of this in one piece as best possible,” he said.
The idea of a provincial police force will be among other topics to be discussed and other merging items.
With COVID, McLauchlin said, everybody is getting a little testy and had enough of this and people are stuck at home and they want to get back and seeing people again.
“There’s a lot of angst and there’s even a bit of anger,” he said.
“We’re finding just a bit of edge to decision making, a bit of an edge to public discourse and it’s been complex. I can’t think of any municipality that hasn’t said, ‘Whoa, people are just at the end of their rope.’ And so trying to be compassionate and get our job done at the same time, knowing that we have an angry electorate right now. They’ve had enough of this.”
Other challenges this year include the potential of a federal election being called, the fall out of businesses closing in the next couple of months and in terms of a reset, to see if RMA can do things better.
“This has affected communities disproportionately and individuals disproportionately,” he said.
“We’ve got to find ways to identify where that exists and find ways to correct it if possible. And continue to work with this provincial government to ensure they’re providing the rural lens on all of their decision making I think is critically important to it as well.”
McLauchlin added the federal government has to add rural issues to its Green Plan and not just talk about bike lanes and solar panels on schools.