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.
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.
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.