By Nikki Jamieson
Westwind Weekly News
Consultation is still ongoing for proposed assessment model changes for oil and gas companies.
Every five years, the Alberta government performs a provincial rate assessment model review, and had started this review back in January.
Following discussions with stakeholders, in late July, the Alberta government had released proposed changes that range from a seven to 20 per cent reduction in overall assessment in four different scenarios, according to a report from Rural Municipalities of Alberta, who participated in the review. This has caused some intense concern from municipalities, who say they may have to severely cut their budgets and reduce staff and services in response to a dramatic decrease in revenue if the changes should pass.
Joseph Schow, MLA for Cardston-Siksika, has been hearing from stakeholders and local municipalities on this issue for almost two months, and stressed that no decision has been made on any proposed changes.
“No decision has been made. I’ve been really clear about that since we started the consultations,” said Schow. “A number of municipalities have expressed concerns about the assessment model that has been proposed, and there are concerns about lost revenue, in some places more significantly than others, particularly in the south, and those concerns have not fallen on deaf ears. I’ve heard them loud and clear and continue to listen, and we’re taking that into consideration, so that when I go back and speak with the Minister of Municipal Affairs, Natural Gas and Electricity, that I can share these concerns from my municipalities and what it can potentially do if any of the four options are decided upon.”
Schow said that the province is looking at a situation where oil and gas producers are struggling right now, and they needed to “support Alberta industry across the board”.
“This is one industry that’s certainly paid their fair share of taxes in the past, and now things are a little bit tough, so we want to make sure we are supporting all industries,” said Schow. “We’re consulting with oil and gas industries as well, and if we have a situation where we can’t find a happy medium where we can support municipalities and their fiscal viability long term but also the oil and gas sector, we’re going to find that those rate-payers just won’t be there anymore, and that’s going to be a real problem for all the municipalities.”
Schow called it a “complex issue”, and he was grateful for municipalities and the hard work they’ve done.
Currently, the province is still doing consultations on the proposed changes, and Schow said he didn’t expect a decision to come anytime in the coming weeks.
“We’re in the process of trying to get this right, not trying to get it done.”
He paid a nod to Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard, who had been sworn in to her role in August, who had “put a pause button on this” to allow for more consultation on the issue, coming down to Lethbridge and meeting with representatives from rural municipalities across southern Alberta at stakeholder meetings that Schow had chaired.
“She got in front of people and she listened,” said Schow. “It’s not an easy file to be minister of, and rather than sitting trying to learn her file, she got out and was talking to stakeholders, and I think they appreciated that as well. There was a genuine appreciation for the minister at both the stakeholder meeting that I was in, that she took the time to come down and talk and to listen.”