Red Deer County taxes trickling in slower than usual

Poor economy blamed for higher amount of unpaid taxes

Red Deer County was still waiting on $9.1 million in unpaid taxes at the end of September, up $2.6 million from last year.

Council was told the increase is largely a result of cash-strapped ratepayers holding off a little longer on paying their taxes in the current economic climate.

About $4.2 million in unpaid taxes are on linear assessments — mostly oil and gas pipelines and related facilities. The rest is a mix of residential and commercial taxes.

While tax revenues are trickling in slower than usual, the county expects many outstanding tax bills will be cleared by the end of the year.

County manager Curtis Herzberg said uncollected taxes should not be confused with uncollectible taxes.

“I don’t want council to feel there’s $9 million in taxation lost,” he said on Tuesday as council reviewed a budget variance and capital program report for the first nine months of the year.

Unpaid oil and gas taxes are most at risk of not getting paid, because of the number of company bankruptcies. Calgary-based Trident Exploration, which declared bankruptcy several months ago, owes Red Deer County $2.3 million in unpaid taxes that are unlikely to be received.

“It’s kind of a sign of the times,” said Heather Surkan, county corporate services director.

Coun. Connie Huelsman said the nearly $5 million in commercial and residential taxes still unpaid was concerning.

“It’s something I see as a red flag for the county.”

Surkan said most of the non-linear taxes are expected to be paid eventually. She encouraged those who are struggling to find the money to contact the county.

“If it’s just late payments, we can get into payment plans. We encourage people to call us and set that up.”

Despite the tax issue, the county’s finances are in solid shape and a $1.7 million surplus is projected for this year.

“I believe we’ll continue to see some of the taxes collected,” said Mayor Jim Wood. “Being late on taxes is different than not being able to pay the taxes.”

Wood said the county will receive money offsetting some of the linear tax losses through a pair of provincial government programs designed to help the oil and gas sector.

A program rolled out in 2018 returns to municipalities the portion of taxes owed for schools by delinquent companies.

In July, a shallow gas tax relief program asked municipalities to reduce taxes on shallow gas wells and pipelines by 35 per cent. The government said it would offset the revenue shortfall by reducing the amount of education tax required to be sent to the province.

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