During St. Albert’s 2018 budget debates, Mayor Cathy Heron spoke about the need to continue moving St. Albert towards an 80/20 tax split, where 20 per cent of St. Albert’s tax base was commercial and business. This goal has been mentioned in St. Albert for years as a means of reducing the property tax burden on residents, many of whom have expressed concerns about whether they can afford to continue living in St. Albert.
One question that St. Albert has had to wrestle with, though, is exactly what kind of commercial and business properties would we like to develop here? In recent years, we have had a slew of new commercial space with the Walmart, the Costco and surrounding businesses at the north end of the city, the businesses that have replaced the now-gone Village Tree Mall and the development of the old Hole’s property on Boudreau Road.
So we have a lot of commercial development happening in St. Albert, but what kind of industry do we want? Sherwood Park residents enjoy much lower property taxes because of a loophole in Alberta’s municipal government legislation that allows Sherwood Park to be classified as a hamlet in Strathcona County, benefiting from Strathcona County’s industrial tax base. As I have mentioned before in the Gazette, it is unlikely that many St. Albert residents want the same kind of heavy industry that has set up in Refinery Row in Strathcona County.
However, heavy industry isn’t the only kind that can set up in St. Albert. Pro-Western Plastics has been operating in St. Albert for almost 50 years, providing countless residents (including myself) with good-paying jobs. Standard General has been in St. Albert for almost 40 years, providing the community with decades of service and local jobs.
These companies are excellent examples of the kinds of industrial business that could benefit St. Albert. They provide local jobs that anyone could access, from university students looking for summer work to older people with more limited educations. Much of the support for Donald Trump in the United States comes from the frustration people feel about the disappearance of local blue-collar jobs in their communities. Having more of those kinds of jobs in St. Albert would make the community more accessible to people of different educations and backgrounds.
I wrote several years ago in the Gazette that we need to have a debate about what kind of community we want St. Albert to be in the new century (“We have larger decisions to make”, April 28, 2010). We have started to have this kind of discussion already with last year’s municipal election, and the recent debates at Council about development in the Sturgeon River Valley. But there are other aspects of St. Albert we need to expand the discussion to cover. How can we ensure that St. Albert is accessible to as many kinds of people as possible? What kinds of industrial and commercial businesses do we want to encourage in St. Albert?
These are the questions that we need to answer in order for St. Albert to succeed.
Jared Milne is a St. Albert resident with a passion for Canadian history and politics.