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Tag: Blair Painter

Man's hands – one writing with a pen and the other on a calculator

Pass council approves extra taxes, squares away half of added revenue

The Municipality of Crowsnest Pass is on track to take in over $1 million more in property taxes than was laid out in this year’s budget.

Budget 2023 projected roughly $10.2 million in municipal taxes when it was passed by council last December.

Council on April 4 unanimously approved a property tax rate bylaw that brings in roughly an extra $1.1 million, for an approximate total of $11.3 million in municipal taxes. The bylaw also authorizes the municipality to collect provincial taxes for education, as well as extra municipal taxes for seniors housing.

The property tax bump comes on the heels of a roughly 12 per cent annual rise in assessed property values across the Pass. Property assessments, finalized in February, added about $130 million to the Pass’s total tax base, according to an executive summary of the bylaw attached to council’s agenda. 

 

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What’s the difference? And how does it hit home? 

Budget 2023 initially projected a two per cent property tax increase in order to maintain service levels and balance the budget, according to a summary of the bylaw. The extra $1.1 million in property taxes represents a roughly 11 per cent increase over that projection. 

The impact on individual taxpayers will depend on this year’s mill rates, so-called because they set municipal tax levies per $1,000 in assessed property value, and how much a given property rose or fell in assessed value, according to chief administrative officer Patrick Thomas. 

The Pass’s residential mill rate fell from around 10.5 to around 7.5. At the same time, just over 80 per cent of properties either retained their assessed values or saw those values climb by up to 15 per cent. 

Municipal taxes on a home valued at $300,000 last year would rise nearly $335 in 2023 if that home’s assessment came in 15 per cent higher year-over-year. Taxes for the same home would drop by around $120 if its assessed value held at $300,000.   

Slightly over six per cent of Pass properties went down in assessed value, Thomas explained.

 

 

How will council spend the extra dough? 

Council unanimously voted to bank half of the extra tax revenue and spread the other half across a short list of new initiatives: $250,000 for a new trails master plan proposed by Coun. Lisa Sygutek; $64,000 for capital upgrades to Crowsnest Community Library; $70,000 for environmental monitoring projects at two area landfills, both recommended by administration; a $22,000 grant for Crowsnest CanDo — the non-profit organization lobbying to revive the Pass’s Roxy Theatre — tabled by Coun. Dean Ward; $200,000 for various road repair initiatives tabled by Couns. Ward and Doreen Glavin; and $30,000 for new beautification projects, following a motion by Sygutek. 

Sygutek said the Pass needs a new trails master plan to prepare for the massive influx in regional tourism backed by Travel Alberta last fall.

“The tourist stuff is coming, whether we want it to or not,” and staking municipal funds would boost the Pass’s chances of landing supplementary grants from the federal and provincial governments, she added.

Ward noted that the Pass and surrounding areas were promoted as tourist destinations at the Tourism Industry Association of Alberta’s convention in January.

Painter said the master plan initiative was “critical” to the Pass’s tourist economy. 

“I wish it had been done last year,” he said.

 

Table setting of wedding venue — the Cowley Lions Campground Stockade near Pincher Creek in southwestern Alberta.

 

What’s driving municipal taxes? 

The higher tax burden partly reflects a steep climb in property values since the “buying frenzy” that hit the Pass’s real estate market at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Christopher Snelgrove of Benchmark Assessment Consultants, the Lethbridge firm that handles the Pass’s property value assessments.

“I saw roughly twice as many [real estate] sales compared to pre-Covid years,” Snelgrove continued, noting that the Pass’s natural beauty and slower pace of life strongly appeal to urban professionals.  

Inflationary pressure on the Pass’s real estate market added roughly $92.5 million in overall assessed property value, according to council documents. Real estate development — new builds, renovations and other improvements — meanwhile added roughly $38.5 million. 

There are no physical barriers to real estate speculation in the Pass (or anywhere, for that matter). Not so for local development, which is sharply constrained by the region’s mountainous topography. 

The Pass will run out of room to grow unless it were to annex land from neighbouring municipalities, Snelgrove explained.

 

 

A reach too far? 

Council was rather exacting in its budget deliberations last fall, when it earmarked about $575,000 for 18 out of 42 proposals for new initiatives at a combined ask of nearly $20 million. 

Council passed the extra tax increase after a lengthy discussion at chambers on March 28, when the property tax rate bylaw came up for first reading. 

“While it looks like a bit of windfall for Crowsnest Pass, it definitely isn’t when you look at the improvements we’re looking at in the near future,” Coun. Vicki Kubik said on April 4. 

Councillors joined the mayor and chief administrative officer Patrick Thomas in pointing out that the province has steadily “downloaded” costs onto small municipalities since 2021. Many of these costs were budgeted for in December, but Kubik and Painter stressed that more are still to come, especially the Pass’s bill for policing costs.

Semi with orange cab drives on Highway 3 near Crowsnest Pass

Crowsnest Pass council discusses Highway 3 twinning

Crowsnest Pass municipal council wants to address residents’ concerns about twinning Highway 3 when councillors meet with Transportation Ministry officials at March’s Rural Municipalities of Alberta convention in Edmonton.

Mayor Blair Painter, who sits on the non-profit Highway 3 Twinning Development Association (H3TDA), added the issue to council’s Feb. 14 agenda, prompting a frank discussion about the project’s economic and traffic safety benefits for the municipality. 

“I’ve heard a lot of comments from people wanting to talk about Highway 3, which leads me to the point where I believe that our community wants to have this come back to Alberta Transportation for further discussion,” Painter told council.

 

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H3TDA has advocated for the project for more than 20 years, according to a December 2022 Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) report commissioned by the association.  

Former premier Jason Kenney committed in 2020 to twinning the highway between Taber and Burdett at an estimated cost of $150 million, telling Albertans that shovels would go in the ground in the spring of 2021.

Construction on that span of the highway is now slated to begin this spring, while the province announced last November that it plans to twin the rest of the highway within 10 years.

Painter has long supported the project, and Crowsnest Pass’s 2020 municipal development plan states that “Ultimately, the improved corridor will facilitate positive economic growth in the community and increase safety and mobility for the public.” 

 

 

The MDP further states that “The [province’s] recent confirmation of the highway expansion and realignment project equips decision-makers with the certainty needed to make land-use decisions moving forward.” 

With the reality settling in, residents are starting to worry that the project might bypass the municipality altogether, Painter told Shootin’ the Breeze

The PwC study says the project would yield around $1.5 billion in provincewide spending on one-off construction costs, plus around $400,000 in annual maintenance costs between the Fort Macleod bypass and Sentinel. Regional highway maintenance would create an estimated three full-time jobs between Pincher Creek and Sentinel, while hugely benefiting southwestern Alberta’s agricultural, tourism, mining and renewable energy sectors. 

The study also found that twinning the highway would significantly cut down on head-on collisions by allowing motorists to safely pass slow-moving vehicles. 

 

 

A December 2019 planning study by the engineering firm ISL says the twinned highway would function as “a four-lane freeway” linked to Pass communities through interchanges at Allison Creek Road, Blairmore, Frank, and Bellevue-Hillcrest. The study further recommends another local access point through an underpass at Passburg. 

“In the ultimate freeway condition, no other direct highway access will be available for any use, including residential access, business access or field access. All existing highway access, including community access, will need to be directed to the local road network to the ultimate interchange locations,” the study notes. 

ISL’s study acknowledges that “previous highway [3] realignments have bypassed” Blairmore, Bellevue and Hillcrest. 

Painter said Coleman was also bypassed in the 1980s. 

 

 

Speaking at chambers on Feb. 14, Painter reminded councillors that “We’ve all lived here long enough to remember what happened to our commercial areas.”

Speaking to the Breeze 10 days later, Painter noted that local traffic is already much safer thanks to four traffic lights that went up along municipal stretches of Highway 3 roughly a year and a half ago. (The PwC study notes that highway collisions were 1.5 times higher on untwinned highway sections between 2014 and 2018, based on period data from the Government of Alberta).

The lights also make it easier for tourists and residents to directly access Crowsnest Pass’s communities, Painter added. 

The mayor said up to 25 properties and businesses might have to be expropriated to accommodate highway expansion through parts of Frank. 

 

 

The ISL study was less specific, noting, “The community of Frank is anticipated to be a challenging area for land acquisition given the residential properties and active businesses impacted by the recommended plan.” 

The mayor also told the Breeze that the project risks disturbing the west side of the historic Frank Slide, which is considered a graveyard. 

Bill Chapman, president of H3TDA, says the association hears Painter’s concerns “loud and clear.”  

H3TDA strongly supported Painter’s initiative to install Crowsnest Pass’s highway traffic lights, and remains committed to “achieving a balance” that supports rich economic growth for the province and the Pass, Chapman continued.

 

 

The province may decide to expropriate some properties in Frank, but Chapman noted that ISL “very clearly” stressed the need to protect the graveyard section of the slide. 

H3TDA and the province have hosted local stakeholders at multiple public forums, with Alberta Transportation officials meeting with councils from Crowsnest Pass, the Municipal District of Pincher Creek and the Village of Cowley four times between June 2017 and November 2018, according to the ISL study. 

Mayor Painter said he’s looking forward to confirming a meeting with Transportation Minister Devin Dreeshen at next month’s RMA convention.

 

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Profile of Trevor Hay, a man with short grey hair, wearing a black jacket, speaks into a microphone while addressing Crowsnest Pass council.

Crowsnest Pass to seek legal advice on Blairmore subdivision

The Municipality of Crowsnest Pass is seeking legal advice after a resident asked to build a road through his proposed subdivision before putting up a security deposit.

Trevor Hay, who hopes to build homes for his family atop Blairmore’s Greenwood Heights, says the project has been held up since 2010 because he can’t afford the deposit and construction costs at the same time.

“There’s a very real human component that’s significant in order to completely understand this situation,” Hay told council Jan. 13. He’d hoped to build a home for himself and his wife and to give lots to their three adult children.

“This should’ve been one of the most exciting and fulfilling times of our lives,” he said. “Instead, it’s been like a recurring nightmare.”

 

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Council’s subdivision policy (2006-02) requires that developers put up the full estimated costs to build civic amenities through a subdivision — including public roads — before breaking ground. Security deposits keep municipalities off the hook should these amenities fail in the two years after construction, Patrick Thomas, Crownest Pass’s chief administrative officer, explained at council’s regular meeting Feb. 7. 

Hay wants to put down a 25 per cent security deposit after the municipality signs off on the road through Greenwood Heights. The municipality would close the road to the public and block the subdivision if the road were to fail inspection. 

“It would stay a private road through (an undivided) private property,” Thomas said, adding that Hay’s 25 per cent would safeguard the municipality’s interests. 

 

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Council unanimously approved a two-year extension for Hay’s project, but set aside his request for a smaller security deposit. 

“My biggest concern is that this will set a precedent moving forward,” Mayor Blair Painter said. 

Coun. Dean Ward drew on the example of a Blairmore development that went bust 15 years ago, which council had to buy back at taxpayers’ expense. 

“I’m not talking about (Hay’s) development, specifically. But, it’s not our job to just look after the safety of the municipality. It’s also to look after the safety of all our residents,” Ward said, cautioning that hilltop construction can put underlying homes at risk of flooding. 

 

 

“How many times do you hear about unintended consequences?” Ward asked, echoing Painter’s concerns about setting a potentially dangerous precedent.

Speaking to the public perception that recent councils have been overly cautious, Coun. Vicki Kubik said, “If we sit here tonight with a bit of trepidation, it’s for a good reason.” 

Coun. Lisa Sygutek then tabled a motion calling for legal advice from the municipality’s legal team. 

“Are we willing to go down this road?” she asked. “Because once we’ve opened up this box, every developer is going to come to us asking for the same thing.” 

 

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Council unanimously passed Sygetuk’s motion. 

Hay defended his position when council opened the floor, stressing that he was “very sensitive to the issue of flooding.” 

Three engineering surveys have shown that a properly built road would improve drainage atop Greenwood Heights as much as 85 per cent, he said. 

Mayor Painter thanked Hay for his input and said council would revisit the issue of his security deposit at a later date.

 

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‘No decision’ on Alberta Police Service, says Ellis

Danielle Smith announced last June that she would set the plan in motion if she won the United Conservatives’ leadership campaign, which she did in October.

Premier Smith instructed Ellis in a November mandate letter to “launch an Alberta Police Service” with Justice Minister Tyler Shandro and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs. 

Smith further mandated Ellis, himself a former police officer, to work with local law enforcement and municipal governments to “establish a regional approach to policing in Alberta.” 

“There’s no decision that’s been made to establish an Alberta Police Service,” Ellis told Shootin’ the Breeze at a virtual press conference Jan. 24.

The minister said all options are on the table when it comes to curbing rural crime, pointing to Alberta Sheriffs’ success in pulling about 2,220 suspected impaired drivers off provincial highways in the last year and a half. 

“The reality is that the RCMP are struggling to meet the needs of Canadians when it comes to policing,” Ellis said, later adding, “The problem is that the RCMP just do not have enough human beings to provide their contracted services.”

 

Pig roast at wedding venue — the Cowley Lions Campground Stockade near Pincher Creek in southwestern Alberta.

 

Local heads of government disagree — forcefully, in some cases. 

“I can’t see how making changes in our provincial policing will have a positive effect on our community,” Crowsnest Pass Mayor Blair Painter told the Breeze.

“We’re 100 per cent behind the RCMP,” Reeve Rick Lemire said on behalf of the Municipal District of Pincher Creek. 

Town mayor Don Anderberg preferred not to stake a position at all, citing that town council hadn’t deliberated the issue. 

Previous councils had expressed concerns about low staffing levels at Pincher Creek RCMP, but Anderberg said the town has always had “a great working relationship” with the detachment. 

The Rural Municipalities of Alberta, which represents 69 rural counties and municipalities, including Crowsnest Pass and the Municipal District of Pincher Creek, wrote in a winter 2023 policy statement that “The creation of a provincial police force should not take place unless a detailed feasibility study proves that such an approach will reduce provincial and municipal policing costs and enhance service levels across the province.” 

 

Aerial view of the Cowley Lions Campground on the Castle River in southwestern Alberta

 

The government’s own findings show that it would cost an estimated $366 million to create an APS and move away from the RCMP. The same report, published by Price Waterhouse Coopers in 2021, concluded that it would cost between $24 million and $49 million less to operate an established APS per year versus the RCMP’s current annual costs, assuming a 20 per cent pay bump in the RCMP’s new collective bargaining agreement with the federal government.

Regional crime is already down considerably across the region, according to the most recent statistics from Crowsnest Pass and Pincher Creek RCMP. As the Breeze reported in the new year, reported incidents of property crime and so-called persons crime (which accounts for assault, sexual assault, kidnapping, muggings, uttering threats and criminal harrasment) are at five-year lows, according to Pincher Creek RCMP’s Sgt. Ryan Hodge. 

Crowsnest Pass RCMP’s Sgt. Rendell Guinchard reported similar drops across both categories over the summer. 

Both commanders regularly consult with municipalities in their jurisdictions.

Minister Ellis repeatedly praised members of law enforcement, especially Alberta Mounties. 

“As a former police officer, myself, I personally didn’t care what uniform I was wearing,” he told reporters. “I just wanted to make sure that I was providing good service to the people that I was representing.”

Firefighter gear hanging on fire hall wall

Hillcrest fire station to remain open

Historic buildings play an important role in the cultural identity of a community. As buildings age and their initial uses get transferred to modern facilities, however, rising maintenance costs can bring up questions about how much maintaining cultural identity is worth.

Such was the conversation about Hillcrest’s Fire Station 4 during Crowsnest Pass council’s Oct. 18 regular meeting. Administration brought the topic forward with the recommendation that council close the firehall due to the facility not meeting current fire protection standards, specifically in equipment requirements and staffing levels.

Only two volunteers man the station. One works a mining shift schedule and the other is in their late 70s and has reduced work function. The Fire Underwriters Survey, a fire insurance statistical group, states the minimum staff level for a station to be recognized is 10 personnel.

On top of requiring considerable upkeep and operating costs, the aging hall also is unable to house a front-line fire engine. Currently, the only firefighting truck is a 2001 Ford Type 6 brush/wildland truck that is past its end of life.

Emergency services calls to Hillcrest are serviced from Station 3 in Bellevue. Closing the Hillcrest station would not affect Hillcrest’s emergency or fire protection.

Closing the hall, said CAO Patrick Thomas, would allow the municipality to utilize the building and the respective funds in a more meaningful way, but would in no way be meant as a slight against the legacy of the facility.

“First and foremost, no one wants to go and put forth that there is not an immense appreciation for the years of service that have come out of that hall,” he said.

“That is not the intent, to try and put any slight against that. This is more looking at it from a business sense. It’s essentially just running as a hall on paper and nothing more.”

Though recognizing the financial commitment to the hall did not result in any additional advantages to the municipality’s fire response, Coun. Lisa Sygutek said keeping the hall open would carry a deeper meaning than monetary value could communicate.

“Sometimes there’s things you just do because it’s the right thing to do,” she said.

“It shouldn’t have a cost price attached to it. This is a community that has nothing left in it — it has the Hillcrest Fish and Game, it’s got the Miners Club, and it’s got a facility that matters to them. It matters to them for their perceived safety.”

“Even if we don’t feel that it matters to their safety, for them, it matters for their safety,” Sygtuek continued.

“There’s right things to do and wrong things to do, in my opinion, and in this situation we are removing so many things from the community in such a short period of time, I’m just not willing to do this one.”

Coun. Vicki Kubik agreed.

“As it is, I get the financial part of it, but I also understand the connection that people have that gives them that sense of community, and a fire hall can be an important part of that,” she said.

“The general consensus when I meet with the constituents in that area is they would be really offended to have the firehall closed. They perceive it to be something that speaks to their safety.”

“I wonder if they just don’t even know that there’s nothing in that hall that would service them,” Kubik added.

“There is a lot of concern expressed about the railroad tracks and how long it would take for them to receive service if they needed it. Just on principle alone, given what the constituents in that area have told me, I can’t in good conscience vote in favour of closing the Hillcrest firehall either.”

Although still reliant on Bellevue, Coun. Doreen Glavin said, previous experience showed a station in Hillcrest could make a difference when a life was on the line.

“I know in one instance they didn’t do that [wait for help from Bellevue] and they went and helped with a heart attack patient. And whether it be medical or even a vehicle accident, I would feel better with having it closed if the personnel that live in that community can respond without having to go to the fire station first before they acted on whatever the emergency situation would be,” she said.

“I’m really concerned, we see it all the time with CP Rail, [where] that train is stuck on the tracks.”

Sentiments aside, however, the fact remained: the station did not have enough staff or the right equipment to provide an acceptable level of emergency service.

“Maybe what administration needs to do is to put it out to the public and say, ‘Hey look, these are the options: if we can’t get volunteers from this community to be members of the fire department, we are going to be forced to close this hall,’ ” said Mayor Blair Painter. “Lay it out in black and white and see if anybody steps forward.”

Apart from volunteers, the major issue was lack of equipment, said Coun. Dave Filipuzzi.

“Even if you recruited six people in the Hillcrest area — what are they going to do? There’s not going to be no equipment there,” he said. “You’re still going to have to go to either Bellevue or Blairmore.”

“I mean you’re going to a hall that’s got nothing in it. Even if you got 20 people from Hillcrest, it’s still got no value,” Filipuzzi continued.

“Other than you know what, the value that it’s got, is that ‘Hey we still got the Hillcrest firehall. Even though it’s falling down around us, we’ve got a nice rock outside and we got a nice thing outside and this looks great.’ But the value of it — think of the value of it. Does it have value to the community? No, it don’t.”

Closing Station 4, he said, would mean the municipality could repurpose it to fulfil another need. “It’s not like we’re just going to go there and plow it over,” he said.

Keeping the hall open, added Mayor Painter, would mean ignoring the facts of the issue and the logical course of action for the municipality to take as a whole.

“You’re not thinking with your head, you’re thinking with your heart. And that’s not always in the best interest of the community,” he said.

Council eventually voted not to close Station 4.

At the request of Coun. Sygutek, a recorded vote was taken. Mayor Painter and Couns. Filipuzzi and Girhiny voted in favour of closing the hall, while Couns. Sygutek, Kubik, Glavin and Ward opposed its closure.

Kids trick or treating in lion costumes – one roaring and one smiling on the front page of Shootin' the Breeze. Alberta news from Pincher Creek area and Crowsnest Pass.

Nov. 2, 2022

Lion’s share of fun

Ames and Miles were spotted enjoying Spooky Town and the great weather Saturday at Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village in Pincher Creek.

Woman flipping business sign to open

Crowsnest Pass council approves business licence payment plan

Licence to Kill, the 16th James Bond film produced, was initially titled Licence Revoked. Producers decided to change the title after test audiences in the United States thought the title referred to having driving privileges removed.

As a result of government-mandated shutdowns, businesses across the province likely felt their own business licences were revoked as many were forced to temporarily close.

Crowsnest Pass council considered altering the cost of renewing business licences during its Feb. 23 regular council meeting after a local business owner submitted a letter requesting fees for the 2021 business licence be reconsidered.

General, resident business licences cost $125. General non-resident licences are $360. The municipality typically collects about $68,000 each year.

 

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With establishments like hair salons, barbershops and restaurants being unable to operate for the full term their 2020 licence permitted, Mayor Blair Painter said adjusting expectations for 2021 was not unreasonable.

“There’s already a big enough hardship on them,” he said.

While acknowledging some municipalities in the province have outrightly waived licence fees for small businesses, council was unsure how it would best determine if a business actually needed support.

“I would have no problem with the approach if a business could show a certain amount of loss,” said Coun. Dean Ward, “but I know several businesses that had their best year ever and collected $60,000 from the federal government, 20 of which they don’t have to pay back. I don’t want to see us get into that kind of situation.”

 

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With over 75 per cent of businesses having already purchased their 2021 licences, Coun. Sygutek added, waiving fees for the whole community just wasn’t feasible and probably wouldn’t make much of a difference.

“If 125 is going to make or break your business, then you got problems from Day 1,” she said. “Reimbursing 300 business licences would also be a tremendous amount of work.”

Rather than forgiving fees, Coun. Sygutek continued, council could simply forego charging interest on late payments until the summer.

 

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Chief administrative officer Patrick Thomas suggested a route similar to overdue taxes could also be an option.

“If someone requires or needs it for this year, we look at a payment plan [for licence fees] instead,” he said.

“We do that with taxes, utilities — when someone gets behind you set up a payment plan so someone else can identify that they’re at least paying towards it and they’re not just ignoring it,” CAO Thomas continued. “If they are just going to ignore it, they’ll fall under the normal processes that we’ll try to pursue to deal with it.”

Council accepted the suggestion and approved creating an option for businesses to utilize a payment plan for their 2021 licence fees.

The next regular council meeting will be held Tuesday, March 9, at 7 p.m. at the MDM Community Centre in Bellevue. Agenda packages are available online at https://bit.ly/CNPagenda.