The issue surrounding future land use and development continues to plague Ponoka County council as it looks to figure out how to approach the Town of Ponoka and the Ponoka Right To Farm Society. File photo

County discusses rural property tax assessments

There are potential changes looming when it comes to rural property tax assessment in Alberta.

And with that possibility will come a change in how Ponoka County negotiates with its municipal neighbours.

That was the statement made by county Reeve Paul McLauchlin at council’s meeting July 16, which came after seeing the county just paid out nearly $600,000 for recreation to the towns of Rimbey and Ponoka. The comment was prefaced with the idea that is out in the public that both towns believe the amounts should be higher.

“A few things are happening now that are tied to things like recreation transfers,” McLauchlin said.

“There are a bunch of communities that were to have revenue sharing agreements as part of their ICF (inter-municipal collaborative framework), but a few of them pulled out of it now. A bunch of those agreements are now being revisited.”

He listed Woodlands County, which surrounds a large area around Whitecourt, as one example. That county has pulled back its commitments after losing over $6 million in revenue, the majority of that because of failures in the oil and gas industry.

“Going forward, there looks like there will be a reassessment on all oil and gas. Based on that, there is going to be a significant decrease in revenue overall,” McLauchlin said.

“So any discussions around revenue sharing or increases to recreation, we might have to defer those until after we hear what is happening from an assessment standpoint and any new vision on MSI (municipal sustainability initiative).”

He added these topics are going to have to come up for discussion with both towns as the county works through the provincially-mandated ICF negotiations.

“Truth be told, these recreation payments we make now are commensorate with the use of our residents and are very generous considering what I have seen in other agreements,” explained McLauchlin.

Speaking of agreements, council has determined it needs to come up with a plan before heading into further talks with the Town of Ponoka.

“We can’t have a meeting without know what the questions are that we want to ask,” McLauchlin said.

“I need to understand what their priorities are.”

Council will also look at developing a number of questions on the issue of road use and damages after being approached by the Ponoka Right to Farm Society, following a recent Ponoka News article on the subject.

READ MORE: Further complaints draw ire from Weir on permits

Cutforth stated the county received a letter from the group, noting they are willing to have some discussions regarding this.

While council agreed there needs to be some talks, it can’t simply be about placing the blame on someone else, but the landowners have to take some responsibility and a solution also has to involve the Natural Resources Conservation Board (NRCB).

“If there are changes that are needed, it needs to be done within the NRCB framework and legislation,” Cutforth added.

Shallow gas

The county is ready for the province’s 35 per cent reduction adjustment on shallow gas wells, an item that will take a bit of revenue off the table for the county.

Council approved a motion supporting the move, but McLauchlin explained there are some that won’t including Lacombe County.

“We are affected at a very low level, but there are some that are affected significantly and they are worried,” he said.

Cutforth outlined what the province is planning — the property would see its assessment fall, cutting the overall tax bill by 35 per cent.

“However, that loss to the muncipality in the current year would be replaced a reduction in the school requisition by the same amount,” he said.

“So our bottom line this year won’t change, but for future years, it will be a 35 per cent reduction on all of it.”

That hit to the county, starting in 2020, is estimated at between $300,000 and $500,000. However, some counties will lose upwards of $2 million.

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