Seniors property tax relief saved from cancellation
Council will examine a revised policy to continue grant program
Wednesday, Jan 15, 2014 06:00 am
St. Albert city council’s standing committee on finance saved the seniors homeowners property tax assistance grant program from the axe on Monday.
At the standing committee on finance meeting, councillors opted to not follow administration’s recommendation to scrap the program, which provides a fixed grant of $100 to eligible households to help with property taxes.
“The province is cancelling for 2014 its desire and ability to administer this grant program on our behalf,” said Greg Dahlen, director of assessment and taxation for the city.
Since the program was initiated the City of St. Albert has simply provided the funds for the grant, while the province has taken care of determining eligibility in terms of income thanks to its database that tracks who receives the Alberta Seniors Benefit.
Dahlen said the province will no longer administer the program because of the new provincial tax deferral program for seniors. So city staff recommended the tax grant be discontinued due to the need to self-administer the program.
Dahlen noted Edmonton has already decided to cancel its version of the program while some other municipalities are still making their own decision.
The report to the finance committee said 605 households in St. Albert had taken advantage of the program in 2012. The 2014 budget already had $65,000 earmarked for the program.
The program got a stay of execution thanks to a motion from Coun. Cathy Heron. Her motion was to have administration bring back the associated policy by the end of March with amendments to administer the program internally and a clause that would stop residents from accessing both the municipal tax grant and the provincial tax deferral options.
“I still think the $100 option that the city provides is the better option so I would like to offer that choice,” Heron said.
Coun. Sheena Hughes wanted eligible seniors to be able to access both the provincial and municipal programs.
“We’re not talking about giving rich people more money. We’re talking about giving people who don’t have a lot of cash enough to get by,” Hughes said. “They’re not going to go on a cruise with this money.”
Hughes and Coun. Cam MacKay voted against the motion while the rest of council voted for it. A follow-up motion to add $10,000 to the program’s budget to cover administrative costs, with the money to be sourced from new assessment growth, passed unanimously.
The successful vote came after Mayor Nolan Crouse put forward the recommendation to cancel the program and the associated policy. Crouse and MacKay voted in favour of the motion while the rest of council voted against it, defeating the immediate cancellation.
“I really do have a concern about discontinuing this program,” said Coun. Tim Osborne.
Hughes talked about the hardships of living on a fixed income.
“When we’re talking about people in this income bracket … this is a huge difference to them and we need to recognize that,” she said.
MacKay said he was concerned about the tax grant program because it doesn’t take into account seniors who live in rental housing, who he said are the most vulnerable. He added that other people besides seniors have problems paying their property taxes.
“I think we should be looking at reducing the tax burden for all St. Albertans,” he said, though he noted “either way I’ll be fine with the outcome.”