Cochrane homeowners are facing what appears to be the highest municipal property tax increase in the province.
Council, however, maintains it's a necessity to meet service demands in the community and that Cochrane uses its taxes more efficiently than other municipalities.
Monday night, town council set a tax rate that will see the average home paying $224 more per year in municipal taxes and another $11 in education and Rocky View Foundation taxes. It amounts to a 9.85 per cent increase in municipal taxes.
The average home assessment is $495,700. All in, they will be charged $3,715 in taxes that will be due on June 30 without penalty. Tax notices will be issued before the end of May.
Councillor Morgan Nagel was among those saying the Hulk-sized jump was necessary, stating the town is underfunded. He did, though, add a caveat.
"I don't intend to be the kind of elected official that will continually want to raise taxes over and over, but for me, this budget was an opportunity for us to increase the resources, to give our staff the resources and tools to actually deliver.
"Cochrane is still very efficient on a per capita basis. I'm looking forward to seeing the next report. We're probably still the lowest per capita operating, if not the second or third lowest."
While the town's efficiency was praised, there was concern expressed about how seniors still living in their own homes will be impacted.
Councillor Susan Flowers says she learned firsthand the challenges faced by seniors while serving as FCSS manager.
"It's shocking to know what some people live on, so this tax increase could hurt them more than anyone and often want to stay in their homes as long as they can, so I want to look at that at some point."
Councillor Marni Fedeyko wasn't a huge fan of the budget but voted for it nonetheless.
"I do understand residents' concerns about having to dig deep and I also realize Cochrane is not necessarily a place that should be always looked at as always an affordable place. That's not why people tend to plant roots here. Sometimes it's for bigger picture items."
She reiterates the need to ensure people's needs are being met, and that they see value for their dollars.
Mayor Genung said the increase simply couldn't be avoided.
"We're on the right track. It's not something that we want to do, but something we feel that we have to do."
Kevin Lacey, of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, says they don't keep a database on property taxes in Alberta. He notes that each municipality provides different services and has different infrastructure, making it difficult to do an apples-to-apples comparison.
"What I would say, however, is a tax rate increase that high in just one year is highly irregular," says Lacey.
So, what are the other property taxes increases in the region and other mid-sized cities?
- High River - 0%
- Lethbridge - 0%
- Red Deer - 0%
- Grande Prairie - 1.16%
- Leduc - 1.7%
- Okotoks - 2.5%
- Medicine Hat - 2.5%
- Calgary - 3.61%
- Rocky View County - 4%
- Chestermere - to be determined. They had a $5 million surplus in 2021 and are weighing how to use those funds, possibly to lower taxes.
In contrast, non-residential property taxes will increase an average of 1.52 per cent. Only Chestermere offers a lower non-residential tax rate in the region, although neither municipality has proven to be a popular destination for larger industrial operations.
Eighty-five per cent of Cochrane's property tax is collected from residential properties and 15 per cent from non-residential.
What the future holds for town budgets is fuzzy at this point. In the fall, the administration presented a three-year plan that called for an additional six per cent increase in 2023 and five per cent in 2024.
The growth rate has far surpassed expectations last year, leading in part to last year's huge surplus. Growth will likely be higher than projected in the 2022 budget, also favourably impacting the bottom line. Whether that will pay off for ratepayers next year is something to monitor.
Yet growth doesn't necessarily equate to a better bottom line. In an OkotoksOnline.com article, Okotoks Mayor Tanya Thorn commented on Cochrane surpassing their community as the largest town in Alberta. Thorn spoke of the financial challenges of keeping up with growth.
Currently, the Town of Cochrane has started its process of receiving public input on the next budget. It's something they started last year that did lead to some of the additional expenditures in the 2022 budget.