Update on Council's November Meetings
Since our last update, as well as holding three business meetings, Council held two meetings to deal with the 2023 county budget. Council will hold a third budget meeting on Wednesday, December 14th to continue its discussions on the 2023 budget. Highlights from those meetings are discussed below.
The December 14th budget meeting will include an opportunity for public presentations from residents. If you are interested in providing comments, the meeting starts at 9:00 a.m. at the County Hall. If you are unable to attend in person, you can submit an audio or video presentation and/or an email submission by noon on Friday, December 9th. Details for these submissions can be found here. We encourage everyone who has comments and/or concerns about Rocky View’s 2023 budget to participate.
The draft 2023 operating budget is based on an across-the-board 6% property tax increase. This doesn’t mean that everyone will face a 6% tax increase. The impact on any specific residential or non-residential property depends on how its value shifted relative to other properties in the County. Council also has the option to change the differential tax rate charged on non-residential properties – currently, the non-residential tax rate is three times the residential rate.
Administration presented the draft 2023 operating budget as a budget that maintains existing service levels. With inflationary and other cost increases, staff concluded that required a 6% increase in property tax revenue.
Interestingly, when Rocky View Administration compares its budget to those of our neighbouring municipalities, it compares property tax rates – a comparison which paints the County in a very favourable light. In contrast, Calgary’s intermunicipal comparisons focus on the amounts of residential and non-residential taxes paid per capita – a comparison that is considerably less favourable for Rocky View. Actual taxes are determined by combining the tax rate and the assessed value of property both for the municipality and for individual property owners. This means that municipalities, such as Rocky View, with higher assessment bases can set lower tax rates but collect comparable amounts of tax revenue.
In October, the County provided residents with the opportunity to provide comments in advance of the budget meetings through its “balance the budget” online exercise. However, other than acknowledging that the input had been received, staff provided no information to council on what they had heard. We trust that this information will be provided at the December 14th meeting.
Regular Council Meetings – Highlights
Aggregate Resource Plan moving forward
In response to a Notice of Motion from Councillor Wright & Mayor Kissel, council unanimously directed Administration to return to council by the end of March 2023 with terms of reference that would see an Aggregate Resource Plan completed by October 2024.
Public Hearing Procedures Changing in January
Council approved the necessary procedural changes to hold public hearings for land use redesignation applications immediately before council considers the three readings necessary to approve an application.
Council has been giving automatic approval to first readings prior to public hearings. Besides confusing both applicants and the public, that approach created significantly more work for Administration. The amendments passed 5-2 with Schule and Boehlke in opposition. Boehlke indicated that he felt the changes were being made simply to undo work done by the previous council.
Land Use Redesignation Decisions
Council dealt with a number of land use redesignation applications. Overall, the decisions they made agreed with recommendations from staff. When council chose to deviate from staff’s recommendations, there were clear reasons given for the deviations. Although each of these decisions is highly relevant to the applicant and their neighbours, most of the decisions were relatively small scale with limited impacts beyond the immediate area. The exceptions were:
Additional amendments to the Harmony concept scheme to modify setbacks and lot coverage in one of its development cells. In response to questions, Harmony’s developer indicated that the changes would not change residential densities. Some nearby residents used the public hearing to raise their ongoing concerns with Harmony’s apparent lack of compliance with the County’s dark sky policy and noise bylaw.
The Bridges of Langdon, one of several sizable residential and mixed-use developments currently underway in Langdon, amended its concept scheme to make its Phase 3 consistent with previous changes approved for earlier phases.
Late Tax Payment Penalty Cancellation Requests
Council dealt with just under thirty requests to cancel the 12% late payment penalty that is levied on property taxes when they are not paid on time. Having decided to replace the one-time penalty with graduated penalties starting with 2023’s property taxes, council was more sympathetic to at least some of this year’s requests – reducing or waiving the penalty in situations where they felt leniency was appropriate.
The previously approved Langdon Library was granted $70,000 in bridge funding to finance its budget shortfall for its initial part-year operations from December 2023 to June 2023.
The presentation on this issue made it clear that the library (like other public libraries) is expected to operate at a loss on an ongoing basis. From our perspective, the most important, but unanswered, question is what financial oversight and controls the County has in place to ensure financial accountability for library expenditures.
Recreational use of road allowances was once again on the agenda. Council directed Administration to incorporate policies supporting the use of undeveloped road allowances for recreational access to waterbodies and watercourses as part of upcoming amendments to the County Plan, area structure plans, active transportation plans, and the policy dealing with the sale of undeveloped road allowances.
This is a positive step forward. However, from our perspective it is too limited. Undeveloped road allowances are used for many recreational purposes in addition to river access and the importance of those recreational uses was not part of Council’s direction.
As well, the direction did not include potential amendments to the county’s policy for licencing undeveloped road allowances, which is currently in Administration’s hands for modifications after an earlier public hearing.