Downtown Rocky Mountain House property owners are uniting against plans to impose a tax on them from for part of the cost of Main Street upgrades.
A petition is circulating that opposes a proposed bylaw that would charge a 20-year levy to 56 downtown businesses and property owners to cover a portion of the cost of a project to replace water and sewer mains and spruce up the town’s main drag.
The money is needed to cover an estimated $460,000 shortfall in the $10.2-million project.
“We’re madly collecting signatures before the deadline,” said Bruce Rudkin, a local chiropractor. “Of course, there’s no opposition.”
Signatures are required from two-thirds of owners to make the petition valid. Names must be gathered by April 24 and Rudkin is not expecting that to be a problem.
Business owners mostly object that they are being singled out to pay for improvements that will benefit the whole community, he said.
At first, the town proposed that downtown owners cover a $1.5-million shortfall, but that amount has since been reduced to $460,000, which covers landscaping costs.
For some businesses with large frontages, the additional cost will be significant. Peavey Mart will pay an additional $2,600 per year for 20 years, he said.
For Rudkin, who has a small frontage, the levy will amount to $223 a year based on the town’s current estimates. While that is not a significant bill, he and other business owners are concerned that once the levy is in place additional costs could be added over time.
“The potential to keep adding and adding and adding is always there.”
Owners facing bigger bills would have to pass the cost on through rents, which could lead to an exodus off Main Street, some have warned.
A principle is also at stake.
When the town wanted to upgrade its arena, all taxpayers, including neighbouring county residents, were expected to pay — not just those who used the facility, he said.
Many business owners are not happy with how town council has handled the downtown improvement issue.
“They’re trying hard to bully it through,” he said. “They really kind of sprung this on us very suddenly.”
Some also feel the town’s upgrading plans, which include decorative light standards, terraced sidewalks and angled parking, are too costly.
Mayor Fred Nash said it’s not uncommon for municipalities to pass on some costs — for improvements like neighbourhood sidewalks — to those who benefit the most.
The town has done its best to trim the budget to reduce the impact on property owners. “We’ve reduced and reduced as much as we can.”
Nash said the town has been very open and transparent about the project, holding many open houses. As well, council members and town staff dropped off information to each business last year.
He’s well aware opposition remains among businesses and council will address the petition if it comes in an open forum. Council will also look at all of the options.
“That’s the beauty of a democracy. If you’re unsatisfied, there ways you can show your dissatisfaction and come out with a different outcome.
“I don’t think we’re bullying it through,” he said.
Nash predicts when the project is completed it will be embraced by residents. “Everybody will say, ‘Wow, this is good stuff. Why didn’t we do it sooner?’ ”
A public information session is scheduled for April 16 at 7 p.m. at the Walking Eagle Inn. Representatives from the town and M. Pidherney’s Trucking Ltd., which was recently awarded a $10.1-million contract for the bulk of the project, will be on hand to answer questions.