Lacombe County holds the line on taxes

Most Lacombe County ratepayers won’t have any nasty surprises when they open their tax bills next spring.

Most Lacombe County ratepayers won’t have any nasty surprises when they open their tax bills next spring.

The county is not expecting to change its tax rates for residential or farm properties to support its $36.7-million operating budget for 2010. Since assessments have not gone up much, or in some cases declined since last year, tax increases will be kept to a minimum.

County Reeve Terry Engen said “basically the tax bills will stay the same.” Those who have seen the value of their properties drop will see smaller tax bills.

Tax rates for non-residential properties such as commercial and industrial will go up about 1.2 per cent. The increase is to partly compensate for an $869,000 drop in non-residential revenues.

Next year’s operating budget will be down about $4 million from the previous year. About $2.9 million of that is due to dwindling provincial and federal grants over the past year, said Tim Timmons, the county’s corporate services manager. The county received nearly $7.1 million in grants in 2009 and that will drop to just over $4.1 million.

The capital budget is also down sharply from a year ago — $2.8 million compared with $4.5 million.

Besides lower grants, one of the biggest tax hits came on machinery and equipment taxes, which are levied on industrial ratepayers, including the giant petrochemical complex at Joffre. That tax will generate about $12 million next year, down $629,000 from this year.

Councillor Rod McDermand asked staff how solid the county’s economic foundation was given the “tremendous nervousness” around the changes in the oil and gas industry, including last summer’s $2.3 billion sale of Nova Chemical Corp. to International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC).

County commissioner Terry Hager said the county’s major industrial players are “viewed as very solid assets.” If that industrial tax base departed, the county would have to look at slashing its budgets and dramatically hiking taxes.

Engen said the municipality is always concerned when there is a change in ownership among major industries.

“A year ago we made that conscientious decision to move in an area of an economic development plan that would actually look at some sort of diversification of our tax base.

“We’re moving in that direction, and today that proves to be a very valid move.”

If the major industrial players shut the doors, all of Alberta will be hit hard, he said.

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com

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