By Justin Seward
Alta Newspaper Group – Bow Island
The County of Forty Mile could be one of the heavily hit municipalities, once a decision is made soon on the proposed assessment changes involving oil and gas companies.
The Alberta government has recently notified many rural municipalities about the proposed change for the assessment model for oil and gas properties.
“The incentive they want to give to oil companies keeps getting bigger,” said Steve Wikkerink, county reeve.
“So that means our loss keeps getting bigger.”
The county could see a revenue loss that will result in significant changes.
“Moving forward, we’re definitely going to have to do some lobbying,” he said. “What they’re proposing is pretty drastic. Our assessor went through and did an analysis for us. I think on the oil and gas side of life, it drops us eight per cent of the tax money we used to receive, that we could potentially see losing. I think it starts at $950,000 of taxation that we could lose in the first year and I think by year four, we’re up to $1.4 million.”
A couple of scenarios to replace the lost revenue would be to increase the residential mill rate by 55 per cent or to lay off 27 per cent of its staff.
If the county reaches $1.4 million in lost revenue, the municipality would have to lay off one-third of its staff, according to the Rural Municipalities of Alberta report.
“Well if you lay off a third of your staff, what does that do to your roads, spraying, cemetery care, parks? A third of your staff is gone, so obviously we’d have to park a third of our graders and a third of the mowers would stop and (we) probably wouldn’t be able to do all the spraying,” he said.
While that is one aspect that hits the county, Wikkerink said the other part that hits the urban side — because the rural is going to get hurt — is all the cost sharing we’re doing with the communities.
“We help pay for some of the maintenance at the cemeteries (and) airport. There’s other recreational money we put into our communities every year.”
“If we lose this type of money by this whole assessment review, there’s no guarantee we can keep funding all those things going into our urban municipalities. It’s not just the rural municipalities that have oil and gas in them that are going to get hurt. It’s going to spin off into all the towns and cities that are going to feel the hit as well when the rural municipalities can’t continue with the items we support now.”
Wikkerink confirmed the municipality would share their dollar information with neighbouring municipalities.
“(It’s) so that we all have a little stronger voice as we talk to government,” he said. “M.D. of Taber (and Cypress County) has shared some of their numbers with us. We will just have to lobby the government that’s trying to help a specific industry out when they’re in a dip. (It) doesn’t seem fair when other industries have had dips and the government hasn’t offered them the same type of assistance.”
Wikkerink said, “It’s not going to take too many more hits like this and there are going to be some counties that are going to throw their hands up and say ‘Fine we’re going to dissolve and province, you take us over.'” “We can’t keep going. They’re going to run the municipalities broke.”
The county is now also organizing a meeting with MLA Grant Hunter.
Wikkerink is encouraging county residents to contact MLA Hunter’s office with their concerns on this issue.