Another year, another surplus. Strathcona County’s local government has realized a 2016 operating surplus of $19.3 million as well as a utilities surplus of $2.3 million. This means Strathcona County took over $21 million more in property taxes than it needed.
These large budget surpluses have been occurring for many years. Surpluses are the result of collecting too many dollars in property taxes from residents. In 2016 Strathcona County could have collected $19.3 million less and still balanced its budget. Every property tax bill issued could have been over 10% less and the budget would have still balanced.
In November of 2016 Strathcona County Administration brought the 2017 budget to Council showing a 2% decrease for 2017 property taxes. Council loved it. They passed the budget in near record time with very few questions and debate. The Mayor explained how bringing in a tax decrease of 2% was the result of “a more analytical and strategic financial approach.”
Collecting 10% too much in 2016 and then giving back 2% in 2017 does not add up to a fair deal for taxpayers. There is a lot of extra money that would be far better in the wallets of taxpayers.
Last week Strathcona County issued a press release praising the surplus. There is no mention of collecting too much in property taxes. Instead the release states the money will be “used to advance community priorities by funding one-time, high-priority projects, to avoid debt, or to build reserve funds to meet future needs that may emerge.”
If a project is not “high priority” enough to go into the original budget do we really need it? Also, where is the press release stating what our reserve funds currently are? How about an estimation of what these reserve fund levels should be in order to meet these unnamed and so called “future needs.”
In 2016 our local government took $19.3 million more from us than was needed to balance the budget. Last week they debated how to spend this money. Perhaps the money should not be spent at all. Perhaps the money should be returned to the taxpayers who paid too much in the first place.