To Murray Chev general manager Ken Magnus, talk of economic development in Maple Creek flies in the face of huge tax hikes suffered by many businesses.
At a public meeting last week on the Town’s finances, Magnus said that Murray Chev had been hit by a 65 per cent tax increase.
Approached by the News-Times the following day, he translated that percentage to dollar figures. He said his business’s taxes had risen by $11,434.17, from $17,525.39 to $28,959.56. That amounts to more than 65 per cent.
On Friday and Saturday, the News-Times contacted several other businesses about tax increases. Approximate percentage increases were given (see table on this page). They included:
• Richardson Pioneer elevator, said to be the most highly taxed business in town: 48 per cent; and
• C & G Collision Ltd.: 45 per cent.
• Menkos Hair Dezign: 40 per cent.
Last Wednesday’s meeting at the Armoury was organized by the Town of Maple Creek.
Dan Holmedal said he owns two properties on the industrial park across the tracks: one is his personal business, which saw about a 60 per cent tax increase; the other, Maple Creek Endless Tubing, saw a 20-30 per cent increase.
Blaine Filthaut, who runs the Broken Spoke Fine Art Gallery, gave this paper statistics over the last six years for the building.
For the period 2015-2021, he has experienced a 43 per cent increase in taxes; this equates to 7 per cent a year. During that time, the assessed value of the property has gone up 58 per cent, he said. That works out to 9.7 per cent per year.
He added that if the Saskatchewan Assessment Management Agency (SAMA) value had not gone up – which the Town claims they adjust by the mill rate – the Town “would have difficulty explaining a 43 per cent increase”.
The News-Times has been told that other companies hit by a big tax increase include Cypress Motors, Pioneer Co-op, Skandacor, Cutting Edge, and Maple Creek Stucco and Stone.
Last Wednesday’s meeting at the Armouries, organized by the Town of Maple Creek, drew about 100 people. In attendance were Michelle McKenzie, the Mayor, councillors Al Fournier, Len Barkman, Betty Abbott, Cara Teichroeb, and Jill Roy, and Gary Schlageter, the Chief Administrative Officer. The moderator was Royce Pettyjohn.
The Town had prepared a slideshow with information on the swimming pool project, municipal taxes, and finances from the last four years. The two last subjects were “moving forward/future planning” and answers to submitted questions.
Pettyjohn explained the rules of the meeting: after each topic, three questions were allowed from the floor, with one question per person. Additional questions could be submitted to the Town Office (tel: 306-662-2244; email: firstname.lastname@example.org).
It was on the subject “moving forward/future planning” that emotions came to the surface, leading to a walk-out by about 15 people.
Councillor Roy said future planning included Town Hall engagements, priority-based budgeting, transparency/open communication and building community partnerships.
“We welcome public engagement,” she said, adding that people were encouraged to attend Council meetings.
She also spoke of economic development.
“We have put into place an economic resilience plan,” she said.
It was this subject that prompted a question from Ken Magnus, general manager of Murray Chev. He said he found talk of economic development incomprehensible given the tax increases of up to 65 per cent.
“You are chasing businesses away every day, so what’s the point of talking about economic development? Why not work on sustainability of the businesses that you have here, that have been here forever?”
His comment was applauded.
McKenzie said the Town was looking at bringing in incentives for business, and decreasing the tax gap between the commercial and residential sectors.
“You are talking 2022,” replied Magnus. He added: “There are businesses that may not last another year with 65 or whatever percentage tax increase . It’s a real problem. It’s now, not a year from now. It needs to be addressed now.”
It was a point reinforced by another audience member, who called for 2021 taxes to be amended.
“2022 is going to be too late,” she said, adding the tax increases were astronomical and without justification.
McKenzie said Council had three tax tools available to use: uniform mill rate, base tax, and the mill rate factor.
With the 2021 taxes, only the mill rate factor was increased, she said.
“So when we increased the mill rate factor with the stuff that was presented to us … should we have increased all three? Absolutely. Should we have done this? Absolutely. But what we did is what we did.”
She added: “The 2021 budget was passed with the increases on there.”
McKenzie’s remarks prompted comments of “rescind them” and “recalculate”.
Jack Cameron asked whether Mayor and Council knew that their calculations would lead to 30-65 per cent tax increases.
“Or did it come as a shock after you did that?”
“We did some businesses, not all businesses,” said McKenzie. “When you are talking about 65 per cent, no it did come as a shock as to how those figures were coming through.”
“You didn’t see that before it came?” asked Cameron.
“Not with all businesses,” said McKenzie.
Schlageter said he had presented Council with several options.
“There were commercial properties that were assessed that were given as examples,” he said.
Schlageter said not all 127 businesses were looked at.
“We gave five scenarios,” he added.
Cameron asked whether Richardson Pioneer, had been one of the examples considered.
“One question, sir,” said Schlageter, referring to the ground rules of the meeting, which only permitted one question per person on each topic.
It was at this point that 12 to 15 people walked out of the Armoury amid hoots of derision and expressions of discontent.
“We are out of here,” someone said.
One of those to leave was Dan Holmedal, from Maple Creek Endless Tubing.
Asked on Saturday, why he had left, he replied: “Disgusted.”
Magnus, who stayed until the end, was critical of the meeting rules that restricted free-flowing debate.
“If you want a dialogue with citizens that you represent, let them talk, rather than limit discussion to three questions on a particular subject. You need to open up the floor and let people have their say.”