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County’s general mill rate unchanged

Westlock County’s overall mill rate has not changed from 2013 to 2014, although residents can expect some changes to their tax bill based on assessment and other requisitions.

Westlock County’s overall mill rate has not changed from 2013 to 2014, although residents can expect some changes to their tax bill based on assessment and other requisitions.

Council passed the 2014 mill rate bylaw at the May 13 meeting, for an expected property tax revenue of $10.3 million this year.

“It’s a very minimal increase for most people, and likely no increase for some – except the increase that would be caused by the education portion or the seniors portion, which we have no control over,” Reeve Bud Massey said.

Council also passed a bylaw raising the special improvement levy in the hamlets from $100 to $125 per property — a move Massey said was needed to keep up with infrastructure needs in the hamlets.

Interim CAO Rick McDonald told council that in cases where residents see increase on their bills, there will be two factors at play.

“Our total land, buildings and improvement (assessment) amount is $953 million, which is up approximately fifty million over last year, which is a positive,” he said.

The other change, which will have a more significant effect on some residents, is changing the way farmstead residences are assessed by eliminating the Rural Assessment Program.

“The elimination of the RAP is going to affect any farmer that has a residence on his property, plus the adjacent three acres,” Coun. Jim Wiese said. “It’s going to move it anywhere from an increase of $50 to maybe $300.”

Ray Cruz, who’s in charge of property assessment in the county, explained the change for councillors. Essentially, primary farm residences have been taxed at a fixed rate in Alberta since 1988. This year that has changed so that farm residences will be taxed in a way that’s closer to the way acreage residences will be taxed.

The one problem with this, he noted, is that it will affect farmers differently depending on the size of their holdings.

“The ones that are going to get hit the hardest are the small farmers who have the smallest amount of farmland,” he said. “That’s the only problem, to a point, is there are going to be some inequities created.”

The only way to do it in a more equitable way, he continued, is to split farm residences along with their adjacent three acres off the farmland on which they sit and tax all residences — acreage or farm — at the same rate.

In an interview following the meeting, Massey said he didn’t think it was accurate to say small farmers would be hit the hardest — just that someone with a larger land holding would see a smaller percentage increase than someone with a small landing holding.

“I wouldn’t say you’re getting hit the hardest, it just may be a bigger percentage increase because you’re paying less overall tax,” he said.

While council has agreed on a tentative budget, it couldn’t be finalized until the revenue numbers from mill rate and special levy could be included.

“Now that we’ve passed those, the numbers have to be put into the budget as revenue,” Massey said, adding he expects the budgets to be passed at the May 27 council meeting.