RMWB council gave unanimous approval Tuesday night to recommendations from the Wood Buffalo Recovery Committee (WBRC) that would see all residents benefit from some property tax relief, with additional relief for people who lost homes in the fire and for those who were prevented from returning home because of restricted areas or health concerns.
“Providing residential taxation relief to our neighbours, families and friends is a priority for all of us and we thank Mayor and Council its leadership for accepting our recommendation. It will especially deliver some help to residents that need it most,” said Jeanette Bancarz, WBRC Chair. “We also thank WBRC members Coun. Keith McGrath and Marty Giles, who advanced the issue with our residents in mind and worked in collaboration with Recovery Task Force staff and municipal administration to set the stage for tonight’s approval.”
The relief approved by council will see one month of relief for all residents because no one had access to their homes for the month of May. This relief will help people from the northern tip of the region to the southern, all of whom faced some level of hardship because of the mandatory evacuation and the wildfire.
In addition, there will be relief for those who lost their homes by charging them taxes only on the value of their lot for the rest of 2016 or until they either move into a new home or sell the lot. These homeowners will be charged for the value of a lot only in 2017 regardless, because taxes for 2017 are assessed based on the value of the property in July of 2016.
The approval will also see relief for the people of Abasand, Beacon Hill, Waterways, and other communities who have been prevented from returning home because of orders from the Chief Medical Officer of Health. The WBRC recommended the municipality cancel their taxes for every extra day that homeowners were prevented from going home, whether they are allowed to return August 31 as part of Phase 1 or have to wait for a later date. Council approved that recommendation as well.
Council has agreed to ask the province to waive the education tax part of the property tax bill for the same considerations as the municipal relief and to ask the province to cover the costs of providing this relief, which is estimated to be about $2,356,000. There is a precedent for the province to cover these costs: they did so in Slave Lake following the 2011 wildfire and in Calgary and High River following flooding in 2013.
The relief approved by council is as follows:
- For all residences that were required to be evacuated due to the wildfire, cancellation of 1/12 of the tax, the base tax calculation amount.
- For residences that were not allowed to be reoccupied after general re-entry in the first week of June due to actions taken pursuant to the recommendations of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, cancellation of the base tax cancellation amount PLUS cancellation of an additional amount representing the prorated daily amount of the whole municipal portion of tax multiplied by the number of days commencing June 1, 2016 that the residence in question was not allowed to be re-occupied.
- For all residences that became uninhabitable because they were destroyed or irreparably damaged by the wildfire, cancellation of the base tax cancellation amount PLUS cancellation of an additional amount representing the prorated daily amount of the whole municipal portion of tax less that portion attributed to the value of the buildings multiplied by the number of days from June 1, 2016 until the first to occur of
a) completion of reconstruction of residence,
b) sale of the property to a new owner, or
c) the end of the calendar year 2016
- Request of the Government of Alberta to remove the education portion in the affected areas as laid out in 1, 2, and 3 above
- Apply for funding support from the Government of Alberta to offset the RMWB portion of taxes as outlaid in 1, 2, and 3
Administration will have to work out the details for how this relief will be delivered to residents, considering the 2016 municipal property tax bills have already been mailed out and many residents have paid their taxes already. The official due date for these taxes is August 31, 2016, however there are no penalties for late fees for any residents until December 31, 2016.
Because there are no penalties it makes sense for residents who have not yet paid their taxes to wait while administration works out a plan for delivering the relief.
Mayor Melissa Blake directed administration to bring any flaws with the relief plan to council so they can be dealt with.