Stettler county council responded to questions about tax help for a developer by saying the municipality is doing what it can to aid the business community and encourage growth. The discussion was held at the Aug. 8 regular meeting of council.
Councillors heard a verbal report from Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Yvette Cassidy regarding feedback from the community after councillors approved by 5 to 2 vote at their previous council meeting the waiving of a large portion of unpaid property taxes plus penalties for a development at Buffalo Lake called Bar W Resort.
At the July meeting councillors approved substantial aid for the developer on Buffalo Lake’s south shore: the resolution offered tax forgiveness to Bar W Resort of 80 per cent for the years 2022 and 2023 for municipal property taxes plus forgiveness for all of the late penalties accrued for a property that was described at a public meeting as NE20-40-20-W4M, adjacent to Range Road 204 and north of Bay View Street.
The legal land description is the same as a failed development called Paradise Shores, which had also received tax forgiveness from the County of Stettler in the past.
Cassidy explained the email she received came from the Buffalo Lake Meadows Community Association and claimed to represent most similar associations at the popular cottage destination.
The email asked councillors to explain why they granted tax forgiveness to Bar W Resort. Cassidy stated since it was a council resolution that granted tax forgiveness she felt this request should be answered by council.
Coun. James Nibourg noted he felt the County of Stettler should respond to the Buffalo Lake Meadows Community Association in a letter stating the council granted tax forgiveness as part of a policy that’s been followed for multiple businesses in the past, not just Bar W Resort.
“This one was definitely unique in that there was…typically, we do a five year plan…this one, they pulled the trigger a little sooner I guess…pulled it on the agricultural portion a little early,” said Nibourg, apparently referring to the previous development, Paradise Shores,” continued Nibourg.
“And we get a lot of grief, a lot of grief, not being business-friendly in this community.
“We also get a lot of grief about diversify the economy, diversify the economy and then they turn around and say ‘Well, I don’t mean that.’
“Well, what else are we supposed to do? Okay, maybe give give us a list what we should be diversifying the economy so we don’t get grief every time we invite a new business into the community.
“It seems to me that as long as it’s ‘not in your back yard’ we can have any business we want,” said Coun. Nibourg.
“It becomes very difficult as a councillor to sit here and…take the grief day in and day out about not diversifying the economy. We have no choice. When somebody walks to that podium and asks for an application we accept all and everybody on face value,” said Nibourg, adding that the letter should include information about a new policy the County of Stettler is working on.
Coun. Justin Stevens clarified that the policy in question is a “blanket new commercial development policy” that’s being written to stimulate growth.
Coun. Les Stulberg stated county council doesn’t want to see new businesses fail and in the past some new businesses ran into unforeseen circumstances, “…and we’ve helped them out with a bit of a break.” Stulberg added it’s bad for the County of Stettler’s reputation if new businesses face hurdles and the municipality turns a blind eye.
Reeve Larry Clarke stated he felt Bar W Resort wasn’t treated any differently than anyone else. “We have to treat everyone fairly when they come to our table and I feel we treated them the same as the other businesses,” said the reeve.
Coun. Ernie Gendre agreed, stating councillors should be sensitive to difficulties in the entire community. “There does come a time for leniency,” said Gendre.
Nibourg’s resolution to send a letter to the community association was passed by a 6 to 1 vote, Coun. Dave Grover the lone dissenter.
By Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Aug 17, 2023