Business friendly?

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St. Albert city council says it wants to attract more businesses to St. Albert, but some people might think the city has a strange way of showing it.

One of the city’s long-term goals is to increase the number of businesses that locate in St. Albert to reduce residential taxes that citizens complain are the highest in the region. The goal is to move to an 80/20 split of residential to non-residential tax assessment from the current 85/15 split. That is a laudable goal and one taxpayers appreciate.

Yet two moves the city is considering could increase the cost of doing business in St. Albert, thereby discouraging businesses. The city is considering implementing an electricity franchise fee, which would negatively impact many businesses. Mayor Cathy Heron, who is introducing the concept, says the move would diversify the city’s revenue source and generate some income. Her goal is to keep any electrical franchise fees low to keep competitive with other municipalities who charge such fees.

The franchise fee proposal comes on the heels of a city plan to revise its storm water rate that would charge some businesses thousands of dollars more than the flat fee they have paid in the past. This, too, would affect businesses and those that might consider locating in our city.

St. Albert city council does not yet have a firm plan about what it will do with regard to business storm water charges or electricity franchise fees. Those decisions are being pushed into the future pending more city reports to explore the impacts and benefits. But the fact that the city is considering extra charges to business is sending a chill through the business community.

The St. Albert and District Chamber of Commerce said an electrical franchise fee could hit the city business community hard. Chamber president Jennifer McCurdy says the franchise fee is just the latest burden to businesses already reeling at the possibility of city storm water rate increases.

Paul Lacroix, president of Pro-Western Plastics on Riel Drive, said an electrical franchise fee could cost his manufacturing business thousands of dollars more a month. He said such a fee would also take away a selling point for other industrial businesses considering setting up in St. Albert.

One of the stated goals of the Employment Lands, now known as the Lakeview Business District, is to create a business park with a mix of industries that align with the municipal development plan. It is perplexing that council would even consider instituting new fees and charges that would impede the growth of the Lakeview Business District, not to mention the extra burden these fees and charges would place on existing businesses.

The best way to minimize city residential taxes is to attract more businesses who will pay taxes here. It is time city council adopted business-friendly strategies to get to the 80/20 residential to non-residential tax assessment split. Council needs to work with existing and prospective businesses, not against them.
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St. Albert Gazette

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