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Woodlands County to continue offering tax incentive in 2022

Incentive was originally introduced in 2020 as a way to guarantee cash flow and help ratepayers amidst the pandemic
Woodlands County Sign
Offering a small tax incentive for ratepayers who settle their accounts by the June 30 deadline has cost the municipality more than $300,000 over the past two years and will likely cost the municipality another $140,000 to $170,000 in 2022. Nevertheless, the county sees the incentive as a way to alleviate the financial burden on residents and businesses amidst tough financial times, as well as a way to guarantee a flow of cash and avoid borrowing money.

BARRHEAD – A tax incentive introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to alleviate the financial burden on Woodlands County ratepayers and ensure the municipality would not have to dip into its line of credit will be available for one more year. 

Woodlands County councillors passed all three readings during their May 11 meeting on the 2022 Tax Incentive Bylaw, which provides ratepayers with a small break on their taxes if they settle their accounts by the June 30, 2022, deadline. 

Director of corporate services Alicia Bourbeau said this tax incentive was originally introduced in 2020 to assist ratepayers with the financial uncertainties that were prevalent during the pandemic. 

Bourbeau said it also benefited the county in that it increased the municipality’s cash flows during a crucial time. 

Reeve John Burrows further elaborated, noting the county would have had to borrow money on its line of credit if enough residents and businesses didn’t pay their taxes by the June 30 deadline. 

“If we offered the incentive, it would stay in the pockets of Woodlands County residents rather than going to a national institution in the form of payments,” Burrows said. 

The incentive was renewed in 2021 as the pandemic was still ongoing, though it was also well-received by the public – an online survey conducted in October showed that 90 per cent of ratepayers were in favour of continuing the incentive plan. 

Offering the incentive cost the county approximately $142,000 in 2020, though the municipality was able to recoup that amount through the Municipal Operating Stimulus grant. No such grants were available in 2021 to cover the estimated $170,000 price tag for offering the incentive a second year in a row, but the county was able to reduce the number of days it had to operate by borrowing through its line of credit. 

Burrows said he was in favour of offering the incentive for one more year for a couple of reasons — first, while the threat of COVID-19 may be receding, the financial impacts of the pandemic are still being felt with high inflation and supply chain issues. 

If there’s a way that Woodlands County can help residents with those pressures, “I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t do it,” he said. 

Second, Burrows noted the county is currently going through arbitration with the Town of Whitecourt over the Intermunicipal Collaboration Framework (ICF) and Woodlands could run into a situation where they must again dip into their line of credit. 

Coun. Jeremy Wilhelm said the approximate cost to the county from offering the incentive in 2022 could be seen as an investment if it prevents the county from having to borrow on its line of credit. 

Asked if administration itself favoured returning the incentive, Bourbeau said this program made absolute sense in 2020 but was less crucial in 2022, as the county already has a sizeable cash flow from the previous year. 

That said, Bourbeau noted it is a good thing for the county if it has a reliable stream of cash by June 30. “The more money we have in, the more money we can invest for interest purposes,” she said. 

Coun. Alan Deane was the lone dissenting voice, voting against the motions to pass first and second reading (though he relented on the motion to pass third reading, as he didn't feel he should hold up the will of council). 

Deane clarified that when the incentive was introduced, the county also pushed back the date when a penalty would be applied to unpaid accounts to Dec. 1. 

Without that delayed tax penalty, Deane indicated he no longer saw a point in offering an incentive to ratepayers for settling their tax bills by the date they are supposed to. 

“I think it was a program that was put in place when economic conditions were considerably different than they are now,” Deane said. 

While council still passed three readings, other councillors agreed it was probably not a good idea to continue the incentive past 2022.

Kevin Berger, TownandCountryToday.com



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