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EDITORIAL: Taxing times

Everybody is feeling a big pinch these days. Inflation, spreading like a wildfire, is burning through the economy and residents’ pocketbooks, leaving economic ashes in its wake.

Everybody is feeling a big pinch these days.

Inflation, spreading like a wildfire, is burning through the economy and residents’ pocketbooks, leaving economic ashes in its wake.

One can’t help but notice a quick trip to the grocery store to pick up a few items puts a noticeable dent in the pocketbook. Grocery prices were up by 11.4 per cent in October, compared to the year before, growing at the fastest rate since 1981.

Albertans saw a 9.2 per cent increase in costs overall in the past year, with housing costs up by 6.2 per cent. Gas, utilities, and virtually every other bill coming into our homes has increased substantially.

Many are left looking at their finances wondering how to balance it all.

St. Albert city council is not immune. They have to balance their costs, staff, infrastructure and service levels in a COVID-19 world, with reduced revenues and declining grants coming in from other orders of government.

St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron said the perfect storm of costs is a “horrible mess” that she doesn’t see changing in the next year or two, foreshadowing future years of financial challenges for the city.

Horrible, indeed. While residents deal with the escalating costs of everyday life, they will also have to pay considerably more next year to live in their home. With a 5.8 per cent tax increase on the books, St. Albertans will have to carry an extra economic burden, which will be too heavy for some.Throw on a council-induced electricity franchise fee increase of five per cent over and above last year's increase, and the burden grows. 

There is no question council is grappling with economic hardships as well. Reduced revenues from the province coupled with an inflationary environment makes budgeting a vexing task. Government, however, possesses the lever of taxation to help manage its books. Residents, obviously, do not, but they do pay for council’s decisions.

That is where political leadership comes in. Tough decisions have to be made in the face of adversity, and without political consideration. It is easy in theory, but more difficult in reality for politicians to make pragmatic decisions without fear of reprisal from certain groups impacted by those decisions.

The Gazette has reported on the regional transit file, which is adding nearly $1.5 million onto the 2023 tax bill — the equivalent of adding another 1.2 per cent in tax increases. It’s a big ticket item, whose future is uncertain at best. As Coun. Ken MacKay recently stated, “This scares me. There’s just a fear that we’re going to be contributing much more than we would have thought we would in the past, and not get the same results.” His concerns are valid.

St. Albert is not alone in facing large tax increases. Canmore, Banff and Airdrie are proposing 12.5, 10.26 and 5.97 per cent increases respectively. In other communities, like St. Paul, they have managed to carve their proposed 5.5 per cent tax increase down to just three per cent. Morinville showed political will and whittled its proposed 10 per cent tax increase down to 3.5 per cent.

No one on council is particularly pleased with the 5.8 per cent residential property tax increase. Coun. Shelly Biermanski, however, stated council didn’t remove enough to provide a more palatable budget for taxpayers.

Council chose to push on with regional transit. A proposed decrease in library funding was rejected. Leadership requires making difficult decisions in the face of political expediency. It is certain, given economic conditions, these decisions will plague council in the coming year.

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