Budget committee to consider chamber’s tax recommendations

By Thia James
October 16, 2013 - 6:41am

Recommendations put forward by the Prince Albert and District Chamber of Commerce to reform the city’s tax policies will be considered during the next round of budget discussions.

City council voted during Tuesday’s meeting to receive and file the recommendations, and to include them as discussion items during the upcoming 2014 budget talks.

That decision was met with approval from the Chamber’s CEO Merle Lacert after the meeting.

“What we’re hoping for is that they’ll seriously consider all the recommendations and look to implement as much as they can,” Lacert said. “As I mentioned tonight on tax ratios specifically, I indicated, of course that it can take significant time, 15 or more years. So we do hope to see, I guess, in the beginning stages, some efforts made around enhancing the communications and collaboration.”

During the budget cycle, he hopes the budget committee members look at “efficiencies,” such as alternate revenue streams, or work that can be done with regards to the tax ratios that will “edge them towards more competitiveness.”

Lacert presented the Chamber’s tax policy recommendations during the meeting. The recommendations come stem from feedback the Chamber received from its members and via its government affairs committee. It began to gather the “insights” earlier this year after the commercial property taxpayers were hit with significant increases stemming from the double-whammy of the property value re-assessment and the base tax increase to fund the city’s ramped-up 2013 paving program.

The Chamber’s members expressed their fears about the city’s “unsustainable” tax model, that high taxes could slow growth, new or continued investment and future opportunities, according to a written response from Lacert.

The Chamber outlined a number of recommendations in a report, issued earlier this month. The recommendations include calls for improved communications between the city and business owners, making the tax policies in the city more competitive and reducing the re-assessment cycle to two years from four years.

In the written response, Lacert said the aim of the report is to strengthen dialogue with the city, “so that the Chamber recommendations could be seriously considered and implemented beginning in 2014.”

And for Prince Albert’s tax policy to compete with other cities in the region – in order to continue to attract investment and business opportunities – the Chamber suggests, among other things, that the city works to lower its tax ratio.

The Canada West Foundation recommends a tax ratio of 1.43 business tax dollars to one residential tax dollar collected. According to the Chamber, In Prince Albert, the ratio is more than 3.00 business tax dollars collected to one residential tax dollar collected.

During the presentation, Lacert held up the City of Saskatoon as a model municipality that’s lowering its tax ratios and has policies that look like the Chamber’s recommendations.

“The City of Saskatoon and the chamber basically collaborated 16 years ago to create a vision of moving those tax ratios forward, and they did it incrementally over those 16 years,” he said. Saskatoon, he said, moved its ratios from more than 2.00 to about 1.75.

The intent of lowering a city’s tax ratio is to make it more attractive to businesses to do business in that municipality. Although the tax dollars paid to the municipality by businesses would be brought closer to what residents would pay, this would be offset by an increase in the number of businesses paying taxes.

While bringing tax ratios down would take years to bring about, there are some measures that the city could move forward on that would have a nearer-term effect. He pointed to using alternate revenue streams (which could include user fees), and trimming costs, such as the city’s plan to reduce its energy consumption.

“Any more would be… very positive.”

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On Twitter: @thiajames

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