City council candidates examine tax assessment split

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In an effort to shift some of the tax burden away from residents, St. Albert has been working toward an 80/20 tax assessment split between residential and nonresidential properties.

The Gazette asked candidates what they think of that goal. Councillor candidates had a 75-word limit while mayoral candidates had a 150-word limit.

Aside from the candidates listed here, Jacy Eberlein and Shayne Kawalilak are also running for council but did not provide a response.

Q: What tax assessment split do you favour, and how would you foster economic development in St. Albert with the goal of achieving that?

A: Cathy Heron, St. Albert Mayoral Candidate
The 80/20 split is a great goal and in the past seven years council has made great strides forward. In order to keep pushing toward this objective, we need to be mindful that our tax rate for businesses has to be competitive in the region, as it is currently. Yet businesses require more than just a good tax rate: they need available, appropriately sized land with flexible land restrictions; and they require competitive utility rates, excellent transportation routes and fast, reliable internet access.
Above all, St. Albert must have an attitude of, “Yes, you can come set up shop here.” That tone starts with the mayor. My office door will always be open for new creative ideas and partnerships.
Our economic development department has grown very strong and with the new Edmonton Global focusing on the success of the region St. Albert is primed to grow our nonresidential tax base.

A: Cam MacKay, St. Albert Mayoral Candidate
I would like to see a broader assessment base with more commercial and light industrial development. To achieve this, I would like to create a stand-alone economic development corporation (like in Edmonton), which would provide independent advice and work collaboratively with NABI and the Chamber of Commerce to continue to support new business growth and local business development.
I would also study the feasibility of the following economic development initiatives: a zero-waste light industrial park; a joint venture with a commercial developer, whereby small businesses could purchase and own their own building or condominium instead of leasing space, to attract entrepreneurs to St. Albert; attract additional commercial and light industrial development through infrastructure investment and reduced land use restrictions and red tape; and create the No.1 commercial corridor in the north for retail traffic on St. Albert Trail and zone additional lands that are conducive to light industrial development.

A: Malcolm Parker, St. Albert Mayoral Candidate
As chair of the economic development advisory committee, our goal was to advocate the 80/20 assessment ratio. The ratio has improved from 90/10 to about 84/16. Once this goal is achieved, set a target such as 75/25. For a community to thrive and prosper, it needs to encourage business growth as this results in jobs, incomes, local spending and tax revenues.
Achieving the target of 75/25, council needs to have the will to develop plans to attract new business and support existing business. We need to work with the development community to provide infrastructure in the Lakeview District and reduce the red tape for developers and businesses. We need to think big picture. Amazon is looking to locate in Canada, so promote our location. Consider incentives to attract and retain businesses. Create a business-friendly package on why businesses should locate here. Work with the region to promote economic development.

A: Sandyne Beach-McCutcheon, St. Albert Council Candidate
I favour continuing to work toward an 80/20 split, seeing it as achievable in the long-term. To reach this goal, I believe council needs to build a strong working relationship with the Chamber of Commerce and encourage initiatives such as the recent commercial development bus tour. I want us to explore business attraction as it relates to St. Albert’s Smart City initiatives and implementation strategies.

A: Al Bohachyk, St. Albert Council Candidate
Setting goals for a tax assessment split without creating a favourable environment for business development fails to aim at a correct and realistic target. St. Albert must closely examine and compare our policies against communities who demonstrate healthy business growth. Perhaps some easy lessons are available. What is clear is that change is required. For example, improving our transportation corridors with free-flowing traffic will be a critical part of creating a positive business environment.

A: Wes Brodhead, St. Albert Council Candidate
St. Albert must define an appropriate balance between the tax burden on the residential and commercial ratepayers, and the 80/20 tax split meets this goal. To attract economic activity, St. Albert must work collaboratively with Global Edmonton to draw businesses to the region. Then, St. Albert must have sufficient serviceable land, reasonable off-site levy and development fees, strong transportation links and a robust community marketing plan to ensure new businesses choose to locate here.

A: Jan Butler, St. Albert Council Candidate
An 80/20 split may be achievable as population growth continues. The city however does not do a good job of welcoming businesses to make the process as pain-free as possible. Many small businesses are reluctant to invest here without a vision for the future. To foster business growth, we need to complete annexation with Sturgeon County, draft a new municipal development plan, focus on business opportunities, add fibre optic cable and solve traffic congestion problems.

A: Craig Cameron, St. Albert Council Candidate
The 80/20 split remains a good target for St. Albert. The city has made steady progress toward this goal and efforts should be made to continue this progress. Predictable tax rates, straightforward administrative process and supportive services are important to retain and attract business. Businesses also want a city that offers a good quality of life. Affordable housing, cultural opportunities, green spaces, social services and efficient transit are all important for attracting a skilled workforce.

A: Gilbert Cantin, St. Albert Council Candidate
To achieve the 80/20 tax assessment split, we need to attract more businesses. To do so, we need to make sure they have what they need to succeed, like high-speed internet connections, good access to highways and an attractive tax rate. It might be time to create another industrial area east of the town. We need to reward the ones which will invest in physical buildings, as once it is built they will not move.

A: Mark Cassidy, St. Albert Council Candidate
In the current economic climate, I would maintain the current desire for an 80/20 ratio.
I support more affordable housing options with adjustments in reducing minimum size requirements. I also encourage the commercial corridor past the Costco location continue into the future proposed annexation lands.
I support a review to relocate the employment lands to the northeast of Highway 2 into the future annexation lands which gives ample tie-ins for water, sewage and highway infrastructure.

A: Jacquie Hansen, St. Albert Council Candidate
St. Albert must be thought of as the place to do business and then maybe we could get to an 85/15 split. That means making it easy for businesses to set up shop. Let’s lay out the welcome mat and assist with space acquisition, services and permits.
Ray Gibbon Drive is critical to bringing business here, particularly light industry – let’s get that road open. Quality of life, infrastructure builds and innovation depend on growth in economic development.

A: Sheena Hughes, St. Albert Council Candidate
The tax split ratio can be improved by continuing to determine the barriers that are discouraging businesses from choosing St. Albert and removing those obstacles. This is done with open communication with the business community and respect followed by response to their feedback. We must also recognize the importance of twinning Ray Gibbon Drive and improved flexibility in zoning to create a successful industrial park on the west end.

A: Charlene Jelinski, St. Albert Council Candidate
Development is essential for St. Albert to continue accommodating its growth. The ideal split would be approximately 80/20. We have had great improvements with our northern developments (such as Costco, Marshall’s and the theatre), and this growth will lower the tax burden for residents. Attraction of large companies is great but the city also has to support small business in the community and ensure they can be successful.

A: Natalie Joly, St. Albert Council Candidate
Supporting and celebrating business is vital to reduce our residential tax burden. Our residential-commercial tax split is moving toward our 80/20 goal, which I support. City council is facing a decision about whether to re-instate the municipal planning commission (MPC), which is opposed by administration, the Chamber of Commerce and local business. Re-instating the MPC is counterproductive and would erode progress made over the last decade to diversify our commercial base.

A: Mark Kay, St. Albert Council Candidate
I don’t mind the 80/20 split but we have to be careful with how high we go with nonresidential property taxes. New and existing businesses are essential to the growth of St. Albert. They bring a lot to the economy through jobs, services to the residents and the stated tax adjustment. We want to be seen as a place where businesses can grow, without them feeling we just want them for the tax benefit.

A: Ken MacKay, St. Albert Council Candidate
Businesses will go somewhere that feels relevant, innovative and vibrant. We must implement strategies that leverage our quality of life and offer the amenities that will attract new families and associated residential and nonresidential assessment growth. Council must engage our existing business community and be open to streamlining processes and “cutting red tape.” Capitalizing on the economic benefits and opportunities of a regional economic development strategy will contribute toward achieving an 80/20 tax split.

A: Ufuoma Odebala-Fregene, St. Albert Council Candidate
I am not inclined to change the 80/20 tax assessment split. The city needs to improve its economic development strategy to capture home-based business owners as stakeholders. This means engaging with these economic actors in very real and direct ways instead of sending them yearly reminders to renew their licences. It also means engaging them to leverage opportunities to move their businesses to commercial spaces, and providing incubation and related business support for co-operative business models.

A: Nestor Petriw, St. Albert Council Candidate
An 80/20 tax assessment split was a goal since at least 2012 (the provincial average for cities was closer to 72/28). In 2016, our split was 86/14, heading in the right direction.
St. Albert’s quality of life should feature prominently for anyone who wishes to do business here. An environmentally responsible, safe community with amenities that are second-to-none are among the features that make St. Albert an attractive city to live and do business in.

A: Hannes Rudolph, St. Albert Council Candidate
St. Albert currently generates 14 per cent of its taxes from nonresidential. My goal is to reach 20 per cent by 2021.
The industrial parkland near Ray Gibbon Drive and the new land available downtown present opportunities to attract new types of businesses and specialize in specific industries.
I will move forward with essential services to the industrial parkland. I want to work with the city administration to streamline the process for businesses to establish here.

A: Bob Russell, St. Albert Council Candidate
An 80/20 tax assessment should just be a preliminary goal because we really must try to reach a more reasonable tax split between residential and nonresidential. That can only be accomplished with a dedicated effort to establish broader commercial and light industrial growth. St. Albert owns over 200 acres of land west of Ray Gibbon Drive, and if re-elected I intend to bring forward a resolution to have administration take steps to see that this land is available for development.

A: Steve Stone, St. Albert Council Candidate
The focus should not be about tax splitting but about satisfying all in our community – business is also part of our community. Council is here to serve businesses, too, not to compete with or frustrate them.
I have heard much about solutions in past elections – nothing has panned out. Why? The bottom line is businesses will be attracted to St. Albert only when St. Albert is attractive to them. A sober self-examination to correct faulty planning is necessary.

A: Tash Taylor, St. Albert Council Candidate
I’ve often contemplated whether we actually have the land capacity to reach the 80/20 split and how residential density targets will affect our ambitions. Doing business in St. Albert must be easy and affordable, especially in contrast to surrounding communities. This is not always the case. I am also concerned with how new federal and provincial legislation on the horizon will impact smaller and family-owned businesses. Council needs to stand with our business community to ensure continued economic vitality.

A: Jaye Walter, St. Albert Council Candidate
St. Albert needs to develop a more business-friendly reputation. The benefits are obvious: less reliance on a residential tax base, but more important is the opportunities for the residents of St. Albert that this would present. If everybody had the opportunity to work in St. Albert, I believe that we would have a more vibrant community. By reviewing existing policies and cutting red tape, I believe this can be accomplished.

A: Ray Watkins, St. Albert Council Candidate
The key to economic growth is a strong economic development department working with council and the Chamber to promote the city. It’s not enough to designate land business/industrial under a long-term plan. When a business decides to come to a municipality, they want to get operational as soon as possible. We need shovel-ready, zoned and fully serviced land.
Furthermore, we need an administration open and friendly to business when inquiries are made.

A: Leonard Wilkins, St. Albert Council Candidate
An 80/20 tax split still puts St. Albert at the upper end of the range for the Capital Region. To foster a sustainable future, we will need to continue to narrow this gap.
To address this, we need to implement tighter fiscal management and reduce the amount of overall residential tax, and aggressively seek businesses that would have a broad tax base. In essence, we need to grow our nonresidential base faster than our residential base.

A: Barry Zukewich, St. Albert Council Candidate
The 80/20 tax assessment split that the current council is seeking is a good target.
Working with the Chamber of Commerce and our economic advisory board, we could identify blossoming industrial bases which might benefit from an industry-specific business park, which council could then set in motion to develop.
Green energy technology or perhaps recycled product manufacturing might be an attractive fit, while creating desirable jobs and a diversified tax base in our city.

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