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City looks behind numbers of recent property tax rate report

Grande Prairie’s Chief Financial Officer says a recent report on property tax rates in the province doesn’t look beyond the mill rate. Danielle Whiteway says the context behind the percentages in the report is the budget and taxes set by different municipalities throughout the province are based on different factors. 

“One example is we pay for our storm infrastructure, and maintenance and repair work from property taxes,” Whiteway says. “Whereas a lot of municipalities charge for it as a separate utility, so you wouldn’t see that in the property tax rate of another municipality, but you would see it in ours. So sometimes there needs to be added information to put context to the numbers.”

Something else to look at is the average column, which shows the average house rate in a municipality because it is a better indicator to look at. When you look at Grande Prairie specifically Whiteway says ‘okay yes we have one of the higher rates, but we have average home prices around $320,000,’ so when you look at municipalities like Canmore or Calgary, they may have lower tax rates but they also have higher average home prices. In Canmore specifically, the average home price is around $850,000.

So while the report is correct using the mill rate metric, Whiteway says she wants to emphasize home values and property assessments are the driving forces behind taxation revenue.

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She adds for those who look at a report from a source like Zoocasa, which is a brokerage and online real estate company because they are looking at possibly moving or relocating to Grande Prairie, there are other factors to consider such as quality of life. She explains that living somewhere like Calgary or Edmonton could mean a commute to work of 45 minutes to an hour every day, while in Grande Prairie getting to work from one side of the city in the morning to the other side is generally pretty quick. Another factor that could be considered is Grande Prairie has a generally low living wage requirement.

“You know living wage is one of those statistics we look at for affordability and Grande Prairie is one of the lower in the province,” Whiteway says. “So when it comes to what a person does need for a living wage, we are around $19.65, which I believe is the second lowest of most comparable municipalities.”

The numbers from the Zoocasa are from statistics pulled in 2022, which Whiteway explains does not take into account the 2023 budget that most municipalities either have already or are in the process of passing. Grande Prairie City Council passed their budget for the upcoming year back in November, which included a 1.71% increase in property taxes. If you look at inflation over the last five years Whiteway says the city’s tax rates have decreased since 2019, while inflation has accumulated by almost 16%.

“So one other thing we have been looking at is where these other municipalities have been settling their 2023 budget. So the council was able to settle on the 1.71% which from what I have seen from across the province already is the lowest tax rate increase for our comparator.”

Airdrie, Medicine Hat, and Red Deer are municipalities that are closer in population to Grande Prairie so they are considered to be comparable municipalities.

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