City council candidates talk taxes

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Property taxes support city services, maintenance and capital projects.

The Gazette asked candidates what their tax goals would be. Councillor candidates had a 75-word limit while mayoral candidates had a 150-word limit.

Aside from the candidates listed here, Jacy Eberlein and Ufuoma Odebala-Fregene are also running for council but did not provide a response.

Q: What would be your goal for property taxes to support city services, maintenance and capital projects?

A: Cathy Heron, St. Albert Mayoral Candidate
Council can be fiscally responsible and still build a beautiful, prosperous, inclusive forward thinking city. We need a culture of innovation and efficiency within administration to work towards ending our reliance on property taxes. Other sources of revenue such as regional cost sharing, franchise and user fees, local improvement taxes, a share of provincial revenue, improved powers under the MGA should be explored.
Property taxes are regressive. They don’t grow directly with our economy and punish those on fixed incomes or those who unexpectedly become unemployed. Right now cities are responsible for 60 per cent of all public infrastructure in this country, while receiving only 8 per cent of the total tax revenue. There is a disconnect between our resources and our responsibilities. I have spent years cultivating relationships with the region, province and the country and I am poised to lead this conversation.

A: Cam MacKay, St. Albert Mayoral Candidate
As a mayoral candidate I have proposed a 2.5 per cent tax increase in the first year and 1.5 per cent for the remaining three years. I am not advocating for any large expansion of municipal government rather I will work to maintain what we have by investing in maintenance of existing infrastructure with a mind to help reduce infrastructure costs in the future. In turn I will be seeking opportunities to broaden our tax base by pursuing economic development opportunities and working with our newly hired internal auditor and city staff to find efficiencies. For regional projects where we need to work with the provincial government to obtain funding such as with Ray Gibbon Drive I will be advocating that we reduce our lobbying efforts to one or two items to increase the effectiveness of our message. Additionally, any revenue sources that do not derive from residents should be pursued.

A: Malcolm Parker, St. Albert Mayoral Candidate
My goal would be to have administration review each department’s operating budget to identify cost efficiencies without severely affecting service levels. Each department would empower staff members to review their job responsibilities to assess what they do, the time spent doing the task and answer the question “what value would be lost” if the task were eliminated or reduced. Council would set a predetermined cost efficiency target such as a 5 per cent reduction in costs and this would have a positive impact on reducing taxes. Project capital costs need to be monitored with a policy that reduces the 50 per cent contingency for scope changes and cost overruns to a 10 per cent maximum. Priorities need to be set so projects are planned over a time frame that considers affordability and the need relative to economic and population growth. I would like to target a zero tax increase by year three of council’s term.

A: Sandyne Beach-McCutcheon, St. Albert Council Candidate
This past term Council was successful in keeping the property tax increase to an average of less than one per cent per year (0.8 per cent in 2017). With so much unknown, (results of the plebiscite and Council’s response) I am not prepared to set an immediate goal, but would expect this to be a matter of discussion for Council very early on.

A: Al Bohachyk, St. Albert Council Candidate
Tax revenues must be sufficient to maintain all essential services. But to uncover savings, I’d examine all department programs for excess or inefficiency, curtail unnecessary spending, initiate a hiring freeze, all with a focus on lowering taxes. With proper management, we can maintain (or improve) services, add to critical infrastructure and still respect taxpayer’s dollars. We cannot simply ‘keep raising taxes’; too many are struggling and deserve some fiscal restraint from the City.

A: Wes Brodhead, St. Albert Council Candidate
My goal in relation to the on-going need for tax support for municipal services is to target keeping increases to the inflation rate or less. The blessing of living in a growing community is the ability exists to achieve this goal given annual tax assessment growth. The challenge before Council is to ensure civic services are delivered in the most efficient manner possible and that the level of service reflects the will of the community.

A: Jan Butler, St. Albert Council Candidate
We must find savings. There are many items that the residents feel waste taxpayers’ money. Examples: yellow painted lines, pilot project for micro-surfacing roads and other projects that the city takes on that taxpayer money is used for. Capital projects are essential to retain, maintain and replace and for growth, and need to be scrutinized. Some services like grass cutting and snow removal must be improved and we need savings in others.

A: Craig Cameron, St. Albert Council Candidate
St. Albert is recognized for offering a high quality of life. We enjoy this reputation because successive councils demanded quality city services, set a high maintenance standard, and invested in capital projects that have supported growth. My goal for taxes is to ensure that the city respects residents’ dollars by supporting responsible tax rates that continue to provide good value and support a high quality of life for us all.

A: Gilbert Cantin, St. Albert Council Candidate
I want to make sure council reviews all expenses and finds efficiencies in the present budget to free up some money, so we do not need to increase taxes to do capital projects. By attracting more businesses in St.Albert, we can share the tax burden on residents.

A: Mark Cassidy, St. Albert Council Candidate
I support zero-based budgeting whereby capital projects are taken out of the budget and are not items essential towards infrastructure or core requirements. We can reduce our fat, top-heavy, overstaffed city hall by reducing staff by reducing 7 per cent per annum through attrition and thus having no future tax increases and staying competitive with neighbouring municipalities.

A: Jacquie Hansen, St. Albert Council Candidate
The city has done a good job in keeping the increases low over the past few years particularly when we look at increases elsewhere. Per-capita spending is also on par with other communities which is good news. The challenge ahead for the new council will be to keep tax increases low while maintaining a high standard of service, deal with external cost pressures and manage a growing community where facilities are needed. Funding alternatives to building facilities will be a big part of the conversation.

A: Sheena Hughes, St. Albert Council Candidate
Taxes should not increase beyond inflation.  I brought to light that new staff has increased at four times the population growth, which is unsustainable. I have a record of delivering improved value for our tax dollars and reducing tax increases without affecting service levels. I will continue this level of dedication of showing respect for your tax dollars, asking tough questions, improving accountability and challenging unnecessary spending, such as painted roads and sidewalks.

A: Charlene Jelinski, St. Albert Council Candidate
Property taxes are absolutely necessary to fund our city’s projects. My goal on council would be to keep them as low as possible while maintaining or improving our current levels of service and maintenance. Fiscally responsible decisions are needed regarding new projects to ensure that residents can afford living here while still benefiting by all St. Albert can offer.

A: Natalie Joly, St. Albert Council Candidate
St. Albert’s unique character is due to service levels, green spaces, and the absence of heavy industry. To continue providing exceptional services while maximizing efficiency, we must support businesses that fit our character and values to increase commercial tax revenue. Another priority is having internal audit review process controls and ensure consistent risk management throughout our operations. We must also empower city staff by providing supportive operating conditions and autonomy to ensure effectiveness and time efficiency.

A: Shayne Kawalilak, St. Albert Council Candidate
My goal is to increase taxes only as a last resort. I understand that taxes are a priority to many of our residents, especially young families and those on fixed incomes. We are all looking for a higher commercial tax base to offset residential taxes but I am also looking to expand permanent photo radar to school zones. This will pay for itself, add revenue to the city and slow vehicles down where it really matters.

A: Mark Kay, St. Albert Council Candidate
The city has many projects on the go, which we need to keep doing to help keep our city functioning at a high level. I don’t believe we need to continually raise taxes at too high a rate, as we may complete a lot of projects yet we will force many residents out of the community. Council should work toward a balance of completing projects without ballooning tax increases.

A: Ken MacKay, St. Albert Council Candidate
The preliminary 2018 budget identified a 2.9 per cent increase to maintain existing service levels. Like in previous years, this number serves only as a starting point presented to council by administration. My goal is to keep tax increases below or the same as the 1 per cent average achieved over the past four years.

A: Nestor Petriw, St. Albert Council Candidate
Taxes to support city services, maintenance and capital projects can be reduced through the promotion of public-private projects and by reviewing the financial reserves policy.

 

A: Hannes Rudolph, St. Albert Council Candidate
St. Albert is rapidly growing and changing. According to the 10-year capital plan, St. Albert needs to look at projects that support parkland, traffic, sports and leisure, personal growth, and essential services such as utilities and fire halls.
In order to maintain low residential tax increases and stay on top of important capital projects, we need to continue to shift the tax burden from residential and onto business and industrial developments.

A: Bob Russell, St. Albert Council Candidate
Property taxes … Some city services should be charged based on consumption and service provided such as garbage and composting. I advocate minimal charges for recycling to encourage this and reduce garbage costs, water charges based on actual consumption and encourage wider collection and use of rainwater.

A: Steve Stone, St. Albert Council Candidate
Taxes are purposed to support these items. However, we have to rethink the way we allocate and justify funds for each of these. There is no justification to add to the burden of our already excessively high taxes and utility rates. My goal is to restore responsible planning and accountability and to stop wasting money on worthless projects. We have to refocus our priorities on serving community values, responsible spending and overhauling our city planning.

A: Tash Taylor, St. Albert Council Candidate
As a ratepayer myself, I want to ensure rates are kept to a reasonable level and the services and amenities we value in St. Albert remain. I’ve been hearing from many residents they are more concerned about value for their tax dollar than simply the price of their tax or utility bill. That said, I want to ensure strategies are in place so residents with fixed and modest incomes don’t become financially overwhelmed from taxes.

A: Jaye Walter, St. Albert Council Candidate
I would aim to keep taxes as low as possible to ensure we are receiving value for money. I will work with the internal auditor to perform core service reviews of public services and ensure our tax dollars are spent wisely. I will also work towards a maximum tax increase of 1.5 per cent per year through found efficiencies.

A: Ray Watkins, St. Albert Council Candidate
My goal is to continue to use most tax dollars to support city services and maintenance of infrastructure. Large capital projects must be looked at on a project by project basis and must benefit the city as a whole.

A: Leonard Wilkins, St. Albert Council Candidate
In the past year, many citizens have either not had a raise or have had employment challenges. As a candidate, I would like to minimize discretionary spending and hold the increase to as close to zero as possible.
My priority is to maintain services and necessary maintenance in a cost-effective manner. Additional maintenance and projects would be prioritized and completed as our budget allows.

A: Barry Zukewich, St. Albert Council Candidate
In the past six years, council has done a remarkable job of keeping tax increases below the Canadian rate of inflation. As councillor, I would endeavour to hold tax increases at this same target. Assuming that all of the city departments are being managed well, any tax decreases would be accompanied by reduced services which few taxpayers I have met are interested in.

 

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