The Alberta Energy Regulator should refuse to give new licences to energy industry companies that are not paying their property taxes, says Red Deer County Mayor Jim Wood.
“When you think about it, if they can’t pay their property taxes how are they going to do cleanup on those wells later on,” Wood asked Infrastructure Minister Ric McIver during the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) spring conference. It was a virtual event this year because of pandemic health restrictions.
An RMA survey of its 69 county and municipal districts found $245 million in back taxes from the oil and gas industry is outstanding.
The issue was to be discussed during a part of the conference where resolutions brought forward by member municipalities are up for debate. If adopted, the RMA lobbies the government to get some action on the issue.
Woodland County has sponsored a resolution that calls on the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) “to include as a condition of transfer of all oil, oil sands, natural gas, and coal resource assets from one company to another that municipal property tax arrears be paid in full.”
Woodland County points to the example of one company that was seeking a tax arrears settlement. The company, which had not paid its municipal taxes for four years, had applied to the AER for licence transfers for 12 facilities and 149 wells from a bankrupt energy company, that itself had not paid property taxes for three years.
Municipalities want unpaid property taxes to be part of the financial viability test the AER uses before it approves licences.
McIver made no commitment to remedy the situation. It will be among the issues discussed in upcoming consultations with municipalities headed by Energy Minister Sonya Savage, who was not in on the virtual question-and-answer session on Tuesday.
Strathcona County Mayor Rod Frank said there is anxiety among some municipalities that an ongoing police review, including weighing the advantages of a provincial police force, could mean higher costs for rural municipalities.
Justice Minister Kaycee Madu said consultations are still underway but assured he would not support a provincial force if it boosted costs for municipalities
“I would struggle to see how I would put forward that recommendation at this point in time,” he said. “I am very particular in making sure that we avoided additional costs on municipalities.”
Should there be additional costs, the province would pick up the tab, he said.
The report coming forward will be “transparent at every step of the process,” he added.
Foothills County Mayor Suzanne Oel pressed Health Minister Tyler Shandro for evidence that a controversial decision to take away ambulance dispatch from Red Deer, Calgary, Lethbridge and the Municipal District of Wood Buffalo improved patient outcomes.
Shandro said ambulance dispatch has been consolidated in most of the province since 2009 and has worked effectively. Firefighters can still be dispatched to medical calls if necessary even after the change, he said, adding he continues to discuss the issue with municipalities.
“The point of integrating dispatch was actually to make sure that ambulances get there quicker and as well that we can have not have 100 per cent of our patients going to the hospitals,” he said.
“We can also include a physician in the dispatch centre to help with those calls,” adding patients could be directed to other community health services besides a hospital.