By Cal Braid
Sunny South News
Lethbridge County hosted a feedback meeting for local business owners and residents at the Readymade Community Centre on June 8. It provided an opportunity for citizens to offer direct input to council members on a proposed tax incentive bylaw that could draw businesses into the County.
The incentive would come in the form of major tax breaks in the first four years of expansion. At an April 21 council meeting, “a draft bylaw was presented that would provide eligible businesses a short-term exemption from paying municipal taxes.” Wednesday’s meeting was a continuation of the discussion.
Reeve Tory Campbell spoke about the strategic value of the proposal while standing before a set of storyboards that contained details of the plan. He reviewed the key points of the draft bylaw before opening the floor to feedback from attendees.
“One of the goals we’ve identified is prosperity — attracting, expanding, and retaining businesses,” Campbell said. “One of the ways we thought we could achieve that is through fostering an environment that encourages investment. What we’ve seen is businesses approaching us and asking, ‘What is your incentivization program? What do you intend to do to sweeten the deal for us?’ We’ve seen other municipalities try to do that on an ad hoc basis where you take businesses on an individual basis, but obviously, that has its own perils, like a lack of consistency. It sets a (bad) precedent, quite frankly.”
The County chose six models of what other municipalities were doing and took pieces from those to create a proposal package that council felt would be fitting. It ultimately is geared towards giving the regional economy a competitive advantage.
The storyboards showed the models from other regions and the proposed rebate structure that the County was seeking feedback on. The County’s proposal would require businesses to attain a minimum $50,000 increase in assessed value.
Several of the local attendees highlighted concerns that Campbell acknowledged as valid. Three that stood out as pertinent questions were:
Who pays for structural systems for the delivery of potable water? How much will an outside business be able to monopolize local water?
What about roads? Do you qualify if you don’t build along the pavement? Who pays to literally ‘pave the way’ to and from new business locations?
Why is the industry given advantages that are not available to families?
“We think that this is a responsible and prudent step forward, to give this first reading and get some feedback,” Campbell said. “It’s important the public get involved in these discussions. Implementing a tax incentive bylaw is a significant decision for a municipality and we want to ensure we are hearing from our citizens, businesses, and stakeholders. Council wants to make the best decision for the community and to do that, we need input.”
Summing it all up, Campbell was matter of fact, “The County is not sustainable without industry.”
According to a statement from the County, “Results from the June 8 session and online feedback will be compiled and shared with council at the July 7 Council meeting.”
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