Property tax increase alarms well-known family

A well-known local business family alarmed by huge property tax increases this year took their fight to City Hall Thursday.

A well-known local business family alarmed by huge property tax increases this year took their fight to City Hall Thursday.

Warren Fertig and son Allan, who own Allan Dale Industries Ltd., argued that city assessors have over-valued 135 acres of land they own next to Hwy 2 where the tax bill jumped to nearly $30,000 from $7,900 a year earlier.

Allan Fertig told the three-member assessment review board that the city was wrong in assessing 80 acres of land as industrial, instead of agriculture. The assessment department based its decision largely on evidence that the land was being stripped of topsoil.

Fertig said in recent years the valuable black soil has been scraped off the land layer by layer and given away. But the family has not undertaken the kind of soil stripping that would take place to prepare land for development.

The Fertigs see the unloading of the excess soil as a way to ensure a valuable commodity is used again. Trucks from as far as Calgary and Hinton have come to haul away the top-grade soil, which has also been used by companies in well-site reclamations.

The land has been seeded this year and the Fertigs said it should be considered as farmland. The property was annexed by the city two years ago.

The problem lies with the way the city handles the transition from agricultural to developable land, he said after the review board hearing. The city does not distinguish between the Fertigs’ plan to gradually reduce the black soil cover to the typical development process of stripping the land down to clay to prepare it for industrial lots. The useful soil is often just dumped into pits, a wasteful practice he was trying to avoid.

“Warren and I feel it’s the right thing to reduce the dirt that will be buried,” he said.

City assessment co-ordinator Rob Kotchon told the review board the assessment was based on examinations of the property, standard assessment practices and discussions with the landowners.

Last year, the city considered 20 of the 135 acres to be industrial. That was increased to 80 this year based on the amount of land stripped and the fact the land had not been farmed recently. Kotchon said it was determined the land was being stripped gradually in anticipation of its future industrial use, which has been designated in various plans for a number of years.

“We have tried to treat this parcel fairly by only moving 80 acres into non-farming usage,” said Kotchon.

Since there was no farming on any of the 135 acres, the city could have considered all of it industrial, he said.

The assessment determined the 80 acres was worth $15.6 million as industrial land. That was reduced by nearly 90 per cent to $1.9 million to reflect that the land has not been developed. The remaining 55 acres was assessed at $15,600 based on farmland values.

The Fertigs also questioned the $4.5 million assessment on the 10.5-acre parcel where their trailer business is located.

They said comparison were made with nearby properties, that unlike their land, get city services. The $13,000 assessment of a narrow 1.3-acre strip of land was also appealed. The family considers the land near-worthless because of its configuration.

The review board typically makes a decision within two weeks.