With taxes in the Rural Municipality of Round Valley No. 410, Saskatchewan, having increased by about 19 per cent in total from 2013 to 2014 and some acreage owners paying as much as $7,000 a year, landowners and taxpayers were asking questions.
Administrator Mervin Bosch organized a ratepayers’ meeting to address property assessment, taxation and tendering. The meeting held at the Legion Hall in Unity, SK Oct. 29 was open to the public and attended by well over 50 people.
When it was time for questions, an acreage owner suggested cutting taxes on acreage in half as he knew others who wanted to build in the RM but were deterred by the high taxes. In time, as more acreages were developed, those tax dollars would be recouped.
“No thanks,” responded RM Reeve Butch Boskill. “We don’t want more of you,” adding “very few farmers come in and question their tax rates.” A bit of a debate ensued with another member of the audience pointing out currently abandoned yard sites run over with mice are not generating any money for the RM whereas encouraging people to build would generate new tax dollars for the RM down the road. Boskill was adamant that bringing in more acreage owners would simply be bringing in “more trouble.”
Audience members representing commercial interests in the RM opposed another suggestion from the floor that residential taxes be reduced with the amount made up by increasing the mill rate on commercial entities in the RM. It was noted Sifto and Tervita pay RM taxes but they are the ones who paved the road into their plants and most of the year they are the ones who maintain the road, including taking care of snow removal through the winter months.
Guest presenter Ken Reiter, administrator of the RM of Eldon and a former Wilkie town councillor, elaborated on the relationship between assessment and taxation, explaining “assessment puts a value on your property for taxation purposes.” How mill rates are then applied to that assessment is a policy decision by an RM council.
In the RM of Eldon, there is lots of oil activity and the economy is booming which has created demand for acreages, thus increasing land assessments. Residential values almost doubled in the RM, but at the same time oil and gas activity in the area has “put tremendous pressure” on infrastructure, in particular roads. They estimate road traffic in the RM is about 99 per cent attributable to oil and gas and only 1 per cent agricultural.
As a result, the Eldon council made a political decision to have the bulk of their taxes paid by the commercial properties. Thus they use a factor of 1 for residential property and a factor of 9 for commercial property when setting the mill rate.
In the RM of Round Valley, by way of contrast, the same mill rate is applied to all classes of property.
Saying there are only three oil wells in Round Valley, Bosch asked, if we lower any one class, to whom do we charge the shortfall? According to Bosch, five commercial properties — the two railways, Sifto, North West Terminal and one pipeline — are already paying 45 per cent of the total taxes collected.
Reiter added people in Saskatchewan think if they build in an RM, they will pay less in tax but that is not necessarily true. Granite countertops and other high end touches in a home can result in a acreage house being assessed at three-quarters of a million dollars just as well as in town. And although there may be no sidewalks or street lights, a mile of road to access the acreage costs money and other services such as policing are still provided.
Bosch reeled off a list of services the RM contributes to on behalf of its ratepayers. The list included fire protection, ambulance, STARS, hospital, recreational facilities in Unity and Cut Knife, pest control, RCMP, landfill, airport, two cemeteries, EMO, regional parks in Unity and at Suffern Lake, the museum and Parkview Place. He said most people, when they think of services, think of what they can see right in front of their property but in fact services are much more those visible physical things.
Other topics at the RM meeting covered how Saskatchewan Management Assessment Agency (SAMA) assesses properties and determines value and the tendering process, or lack thereof, in the RM of Round Valley. For more information on those topics, please see the November 10th issue of the Unity Wilkie Press-Herald.
Moderator Ken Neil closed the meeting by saying the purpose had been to provide information and now people had information. Now, he said, “it’s down to differences in philosophy. Now we know council has the tools to shift tax rates. So far they’ve chosen not to do so.” How the taxation tools are used is a political issue, said Neil, reminding people we live in a democracy and it was up to ratepayers to lobby their councillors, or to elect new ones if they so choose.