A business owner concerned about commercial tax increases has urged Maple Creek Town Council: “Please fix this.”
John Andreas, who runs Maple Plumbing & Heating, believed Council had “lost some of their way”.
Stressing that he wasn’t being personal, he said: “I think we have got a rookie Council and a rookie management team. I’m going to chalk it up to that because for me to chalk it down to anything else is something I don’t want to go to.”
Andreas spoke towards the end of last Wednesday’s 90-minute meeting at the Armoury for commercial rate payers. His words prompted sustained applause.
Around 100 people attended the “Let’s Talk Taxes” forum, organized by the Chamber of Commerce amid widespread concern in the business community about the commercial mill rate factor – said to have risen by about 40 per cent.
Seated on the stage before them were Michelle McKenzie, the Mayor, and five councillors: Cara Teichroeb, Jill Roy, Al Fournier, Betty Abbott, and Len Barkman. Also there was Gary Schlageter, the Town’s Chief Administrative Officer.
The moderator was Duane Migowsky, who read ten questions that had been emailed beforehand. The rules did not allow speaking from the floor; it ensured the meeting was low-key, with occasional applause and expressions of emotion.
At one point, the Mayor assured the crowd that Council heard the concerns of businesses.
“You may hear us, but do you understand the whole situation?” a lady in the gallery called out.
Speaking after the questions had been addressed, Andreas was asked by Chamber president Tina Cresswell to deliver final comments.
Andreas said he had spent many years on the Council’s side of the table, and on the school division. He described this as 30 years of experience with smoky politics.
“I must say for the most part it was very rewarding. When I left, I made a commitment to my Councillors and my trustees that I would not haunt them from the grave, unless I thought they had lost their way.
“Unfortunately, speaking tonight, and it’s not personal, I think Council have lost some of their way.”
He went on to outline four issues: property tax, tax tools, COVID-19, and the provision of services.
On property tax, he said: “I tend to make things as simple as I possibly can.
“Property tax at its best is a way for Council to pay for services.
“Whether you have a 2,000 square foot highly assessed mansion or you have a 200 square foot chicken coop you still need those services.”
Turning to tax tools, Andreas said Town Council has wide discretion at setting who pays what and who pays it when.
“We have things like the base tax, mill rate factors, the minimum tax.
“Within those mill rate factors there are three separate areas: residential, light commercial and agricultural.
“Unfortunately, in my estimation, Town Council chose to raise the commercial mill rate factor by a factor of almost 40 per cent.”
Andreas said the COVID-19 pandemic had hit the town hard.
Fortunately, he could say with pride that he managed to avoid layoffs at his business.
”Was that easy? No, it wasn’t easy. Is COVID a dirty, rotten thing? Yes, it was. It affected all of us. It didn’t matter if you were a tradesman, if you were on a fixed income, or if you were just somebody trying to get by, COVID was tough.”
Andreas said the last issue was governance.
“Services. I love services, I like services. I need services. What I can ask of my Council is to provide those services in a timely, cost-effective, and safe way. We can get into the mishmash of what’s important, what isn’t important, what we need to cut, what we don’t need to cut. At the end of the day, we have to have those services, and we have to have Council provide those services in a safe, timely and appropriate way.”
He added: “So those are the issues as I see it. So, I’ve got to ask myself: what happened?”
Andreas believed the answer lay with the inexperience of Council and administration.
He thought Council had missed an opportunity for providing good politics during COVID-19 and the budget process.
“I’m going to ask you guys, ‘please, please fix this’.”