Jan. 18, 2022 meeting
Council’s regular meeting on Jan. 18 consisted of four items – two open to the public and two in closed session. The first two were over with rather quickly, thanks mainly to the fact nobody but the mayor had anything to say about anything, or any questions to ask. The two in-camera items had to do with ‘citizen appointments to council committee,’ and ‘HR and personnel matters.’
Tax auction process a ‘method of last resort’
Council received a report on the process by which properties with delinquent taxes can be auctioned off. It was the standard reminder that such actions are not taken lightly and can only be done by a series of steps strictly laid down in the Municipal Government Act.
Director of finance Roland Schmidt took council through the process by way of a hypothetical case. It took four years of property tax delinquency for the property of ‘Mr. and Mrs. Smith’ to qualify for tax auction. All along, the town has to keep sending reminders, along with payment options.
Tax sale is a “method of last resort,” council heard, and the owner has the opportunity to avert it right up to the moment before the auctioneer’s gavel hits “the gavel thing,” Schmidt said.
In practice, that’s what happens in the majority of cases. Last-minute arrangements are made; properties that were announced as coming up for sale on such-and-such a date (the town’s tax sales are often in the month of March) are removed from the list. But not always. Another thing that sometimes happens is the properties do make it all the way to auction, but no bids are received.
Schmidt’s report did not include any information about how many properties are eligible for tax sale this year. Those details will presumably be coming up in the next few weeks.
Commenting on the report mayor Tyler Warman mentioned a couple of properties “we had to do some clean-up on,” that are “coming due.”
This probably refers to the two former motel sites that were abandoned and deemed hazardous. Not only did the owners not pay their property taxes, they didn’t reimburse the town for the demolition, which ran into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The town is presumably hoping to recoup that money (or some of it) via tax auction. Warman said he was expecting to see details on those properties at council meetings in January or February.
In November, the new council huddled with senior administrators and a hired facilitator to develop a five-year strategic vision for the town. The results of that exercise showed up on Jan. 18 in the form of a report for council’s approval. Presented by acting CAO Garry Roth, it consists of five main priorities, as identified by council.
They are: Economic health, liveability, good governance, relationships and partnerships, and communication.
The idea with a strategic plan is that it “becomes the foundation for many policy decisions,” says the written report.
Commenting, the mayor said the priorities do not contain much detail, but he thinks some will emerge in budget talks. Things don’t happen without resources and that’s what the budget process is all about, he said. He used as an example the desire to attract industry to town. How does that happen when there’s not a lot of land available for industry? Developing new land takes money.
Another example proposed by the mayor is Fournier Place, the town-owned (and mostly empty) ‘affordable’ housing development on the west side of town.
“We need to do something with that,” he said. “We can’t just show up once a year, cut the grass and hope somebody shows up and buys 10 lots.”
“We need to budget for these (priorities) or they don’t get done,” Warman continued. “I look forward to that process.”
Warman said he’d received calls from several business people in town that very day, asking what might be coming, restrictions-wise. Will the province be shutting us down again? – that sort of thing.
“You know as much as I do,” is what he said he told them.
Predictions are risky, Warman said, but he went out on a limb and said COVID cases are likely to rise in Slave Lake in the next couple of weeks – mirroring what is already happening in the cities. He said he talked to somebody who had visited Edmonton and found all sorts of businesses closed (temporarily) due to staff shortages brought on by a rise in infections. Something like that could well happen here, he said, and riding it out the best we can is all we can do.
Commenting more on the budget deliberations, Warman said council and admin had done a couple of all-day sessions so far, with more to come. What it comes down to, Warman said, is weighing “what admin. thinks we need and what council thinks we need,” and deciding “what survives and what doesn’t survive.”
If you want something done, Warman repeated, “you have to resource it.”