By Adam Jackson
In a statement issued by a major independent business watchdog group, Ponoka County has been pegged as one of the worst places for small businesses in Alberta.
“Small business is tired of being treated like a cash cow. If Alberta is to remain a small business-friendly province, there’s a long list of municipalities that much find a much better balance between commercial and residential taxpayers,” said Richard Truscott, Alberta director of the CCFIB.
But Ponoka County CAO Charlie Cutforth doesn’t see any validity in it the statement.
“I think what they don’t realize is that we have the lowest residential mill rate in all of Alberta,” said Cutforth. “In addition to that, our commercial tax rate is a little bit below average.”
The study categorized the ‘tax gap’ by comparing residential mill rates to commercial mill rates — which produces a 6.01 mill gap for Ponoka.
“With the residential rates so low, it makes the gap look that much bigger,” Cutforth explained.
“A lot of the people who own and work at those businesses live within the county and enjoy the low residential tax rate, so it balances out in the end.”
Provincial legislation requires the county to have the same tax rate for both commercial and linear (oil and gas) tax rate.
“Obviously the oil and gas industry is what puts the most pressure on our infrastructure with roads and so on, so if we want to maintain a reasonable rate for them so we have no choice other than to maintain the same rate for our local commercial businesses.”
Although Ponoka County has received criticism for the high tax gap, Cutforth insists that there will be no major changes to tax rates.
“What’s most disappointing to me is that this bureau is just another level of bureaucracy,” said Cutforth. “I’d like to know if this is the benefit that they are giving their members then I’m a little jaundiced about it.”
“If they are trying to suggest that our residential rate is too low, then we can let them come and explain to our ratepayers why it should be increased,” said Cutforth. “If our commercial rate was way higher, it may be a different story, but it’s not.”
Aside from Ponoka, Wetaskiwin County and Lac La Biche County have also been pegged with criticism over their high tax gap.
“I’m not sure about them, but I would imagine they are in the same boat,” said Cutforth.
The study performed by the CFIB focused on 88 municipalities in Alberta with a population of more than 5,000.