Red Deer County is freezing taxes and deferring and reducing late-payment penalties to help ratepayers cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Council made the move despite the punishing impact on taxes by the economic downturn and the pandemic, which reduced total assessments by $107 million, which has reduced by $2 million the amount of taxes expected to be received.
“Maintaining last year’s tax rate will still allow Red Deer County to provide a high level of service for our residents and businesses,” said Mayor Jim Wood on Tuesday.
“Council and staff have found savings in various work programs. We are not interested in creating any more burden on the taxpayer than they already have.”
Wood said the county has consistently tried to keep tax rate increases as low as possible.
“As often as we possibly can, we’ve already tried to keep our taxes down. And we run a very, very efficient ship here at Red Deer County.”
Council passed first reading of the tax bylaw, which will return on May 12 for final approval.
Coun. Connie Huelsman was also happy with the proposal to freeze taxes.
“I’m really pleased we’re holding the line to a zero-per-cent increase,” said Huelsman, who hoped, as did other councillors, that the county may be able to find budget savings as the year progressed.
Freezing taxes will leave the county with $46 million to collect — down $2 million and 2.1 per cent from 2019.
“We’re eating that for our residents, and hopefully, that helps them get through this time,” said Wood.
Reflecting the energy industry’s economic woes, the amount of linear assessments — taxes on pipelines, power lines and similar infrastructure — was down by just under 10 per cent.
Machinery and equipment assessments were down nearly five per cent and residential assessments were down just under one per cent.
There was some good news from commercial assessments, which were up more than two per cent, driven by developments such as Junction 42, a highway commercial project next to Highway 2, east of Penhold.
In addition to holding over the tax rates from 2019, council approved a program that will defer penalty charges until Oct. 1, instead of the usual July 1. The bylaw also reduces the penalty rate to four per cent from six per cent in 2020.
An environmental levy was proposed for 2020, but has been withdrawn to create almost $1 million in further tax savings.
Taxes continue to be due June 30. However, outstanding balances will not receive penalties during the three-month deferral period.