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Sonic Death Monkey
22-04-2007, 08:08 AM
'Howie' and 'Bronco' are kickin' up a fuss

Municipalities want their fair share
By Neil Waugh

A brief moment of brilliance and clarity came over Alberta Finance Minister Lyle Oberg last week.

The short spell of crystal clear, 20/20 foresight came moments before the man who wanted to be premier announced the Alberta PCs will "ramp up" municipal spending by $1.4 billion by 2010 in his budget address.

Transfer of funds

And reminded the ungrateful mayors and reeves that transfers to the local authorities "has increased more than six-fold over the past four years."

But it's never enough for the lowly muni-pols who are responsible for mundane things like garbage collection and sewage systems.

But they think and act like they are the supreme rulers of their little city states once they've been in office for a few years.

"There's only one taxpayer," Oberg blurted. A fact that has yet to sink in down at city hall.

"In the province of Alberta we have an incredible tax advantage," he added. "And we have to ensure that we keep that."

But not if Edmonton Mayor Stephen (Howie) Mandel, Calgary Mayor Dave (Bronco) Bronconnier, plus some lesser municipal lights from Alberta Urban Municipalities Association and Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties have any say in it.

They recently delivered what they describe as a report on "municipal sustainability" to Ed Stelmach's Municipal Affairs Minister Ray Danyluk.

And already Edmonton Real Estate Board president Carolyn Pratt is raising a ruckus about what Howie and Bronco have on their wish list, describing it as "patently unfair." Particularly now when the city is facing what Pratt describes as an "affordable housing crisis."

Little wonder Carolyn is all revved up.

Not only have the big city mayors dreamed up a horde of new taxes - including their own oil and gas royalties (they call it "raising the necessary revenues from resource utilizers") - they want the Tories to set up "formalized regional agencies," that will have the power to "address cost and revenue sharing issues."

When you strip away all the goofy MuniSpeak, that means unelected regional governments with the power to tax.

Already on the list is a concert and hockey ticket tax, a hotel tax, a vehicle registration surcharge, jacked up development levies and charging resource firms "economic rent."

But most offensive of Howie and Bronco's hideous list of gouges is the one they call the "property transfer tax."

"Realtors are concerned it will result in higher housing prices," Pratt blasted. "And if not applies evenly could result in price inequities between communities."

The latest Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. housing start stats show that Edmonton city council's policies appear to be driving development to the suburbs.

Slapping home buyers with a $4,000 transfer levy would turn the exodus into a stampede.

The Alberta Tories run-away boom has already seen Edmonton house prices rise by 50% in a year.

While the inventory on the EREB's listing service has dried up as Travis Holowach's up-start ComFree franchise takes more and more house sales away from board realtors.

Great times if you have a house to sell. Not much fun if you are a recent arrival or young folks just getting started with modest cash flow.

"To add an additional home-buying tax at this time just aggravates the situation," Pratt sighed.

She clearly isn't buying into the "urgent need" and claims that municipalities "face significant funding shortfalls" in Mandel and Bronconnier's dubious document.

Canadian Taxpayers Federation director Scott Hennig isn't buying it either.

He has issued a warning about Alberta politicians being "led to the tax trough."

And accused Alberta municipal politicians of "focusing so much of their time and energy on pillaging our pocketbooks."

If the mayors put in as much effort into prioritizing spending and cost savings, Hennig stormed "this entire discussion would not be necessary."

Oberg confirmed that the real estate transfer grab was not part of his municipal package.

Snelgrove fence sitting

But his cabinet partner and reputed fiscal yard dog, Treasury Board President Lloyd Snelgrove, strangely chose to sit on the fence.

"Rather than put the cart before the horse let's work with the municipalities," Snelgrove said.

So is that a firm "no" or a definite "maybe"?

"That's a wait and see," Snelgrove shot back.

I was afraid he might say that.

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