The results of the City’s consultation were included in the report presented to City Council Monday afternoon, which also showed another 30 are neutral, while four are in support and three would support it conditionally. One property with multiple owners was split between conditional support and opposition.
Included in the results are both the formal forms sent out by the City and the informal survey conducted by “unofficial representatives”.
“The Ministry’s looking to us to provide some accommodations to accommodate the concerns of some of the rural residents because you do not have full support for boundary extension,” City Manager Dianne Hunters stresses. “In fact, you’ve got very limited support for boundary extension.”
As the first suggested mitigation measure, council has asked staff to look in phasing property taxes over five or ten years. With that is the stipulation that full City taxes will come into effect during the phasing-in period should the land be rezoned or subdivided, have its use or property title changed, or get connected to municipal water and sewer services at the landowner’s request.
The five year recommendation came from a recent conversation with the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development, but City Councillors debated the merits of having a shorter time frame versus a longer one.
“I don’t think that we should be looking at phasing this in, and in five years time having someone sitting there paying full city taxes without water and sewer,” argued Councillor Dan Davies.
“We gotta get it done,” responded Councillor Larry Evans. “We’re busy now; we need the land. In other places they sometimes just walk in and take the land and from what I understand don’t give us the five years, so we’re actually sending out the olive branch by doing this five years.”
Hunter also points out that council’s recent decision to have the agricultural tax rate be close to the rural tax rate means parcels zoned that way may not see much of an increase.
The options of five and ten years phasing-in will be brought to the property owners, which is hoped to give the City the sense of whether taxation is the primary issue. Director of Legislative Services Janet Prestley maintains that if the residents still oppose the proposal with the mitigation measures, it sends a clear message to the Ministry.
“It’s one of four or five criteria that they look at, and one of them is growth and managing growth,” she says. “So if they’re opposed to it, then it shows that, ‘Okay, the City has done what they could do to mitigate the impact of this boundary extension, and it’s just the residents are just adamantly opposed to it.’”
According to City staff’s report, the main concerns that those affected have expressed are that their taxes would increase without any new benefits, services like road maintenance would decrease, and they would lose their rural lifestyle due to an increase in regulations.
At the same time, the City’s argues there are benefits like a potential increase in property value, the ability to develop to urban standards, more services like a full-time fire department, and the ability to connect to the City’s water and sewer system. The latter would be dependent on a Local Area Service Program, if residents request the service, and more than 50 per cent of landowners approve the cost.
Whatever council decides on in the end will be used for future boundary extensions as well. A further report on mitigation measures will be brought back for the December 9 council meeting.