St. Albert….We have a spending problem, and a revenue problem.

It is understood by many of our residents that if St Albert fully commits on all of the capital plans in place for the next 10 years, without fixing our revenue problem, our financial obligations will indeed look bleak; particularly for our children and grandchildren.

We have a higher dependency on residential taxes than most of our neighbours. Business and manufacturing seem to avoid St Albert in favour of the other regional communities. As a result, our business tax base is lesser by comparison.

It’s tempting to look to Fort Saskatchewan or Sherwood Park as comparables, but we must acknowledge that they enjoy a different tax structure because of petroleum based industries that populate their locals. St Albert certainly cannot compete with that industry base, and cannot say - ‘we should operate just like they do’. 

However, many other municipalities are doing well - industry and business wise. Stony Plain, Spruce Grove and others, who do not generally reap taxes from the petroleum industry, are still booming with new business. Land development between the two western hi-ways is in a state of almost continuous growth. Edmonton is not a fair comparator, but nonetheless has enjoyed significant industry growth. Why is that? 

If you talk to folks in our community who have direct knowledge about the answer to this question (business owners or those who have tried to build in St Albert), the evidence seems quite clear. St Albert is not business friendly. Specifically, the obstructionist nature of our City policies and practices, often directed at those securing a business development plan, is more difficult than in other municipalities. I am told there are many more complex ‘hoops’ to jump through. That applications to ‘adjust’ or ‘redevelop’ a business are met with resistance. The folks I have spoken to are not surprised that industry would sooner select a business friendly local. They point at the evidence of industrial growth everywhere else but here.

I’m in no position to debate this with them because I don’t have a business background. I trust they are sincere in their understanding and beliefs, and their conclusions make abundant sense to me. They have little to gain by sharing this with me because we don’t discuss names or details. 

I am convinced they are the residents we must listen to, to gain a well rounded perspective of the realities.

I’m prepared to listen. And, I’m prepared to investigate. And, I’m not afraid to suggest and support change.

This matter must be reviewed very carefully. Perhaps it can be one of the first tasks of our new internal auditor. Maybe a new council can push this agenda. I would be glad to carry this issue forward. We must ensure we deal with this matter quickly. Obviously, there is a lag time between changing the business structure and enjoying the results. Sooner is better.

The risk of not doing anything is that our residential taxes will remain at a higher ratio than necessary. Major projects that we want to consider will always be funded on the backs of our residents. Seniors will be (and are now actively) forced to consider moving out of homes they have lived in for 30 or more years. Younger families will balk at selecting St Albert because of the taxes. And, we will be mulling this over again, year after year.

 


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