By Medicine Hat News Opinion on June 27, 2020.
Hatters don’t have to pay their property taxes Tuesday – June 30 is the traditional due date.
Tax notices won’t even be sent until July, but eventually Hatters will be able to use a credit card to cover off the amount if it’s paid in full in August.
Council approved that departure by split decision in early June, including with a notion for city hall to cover all related fees, and sources say $10,000 has already been charged a month before tax notices have gone out.
It’s alternately described as a way to help Hatters juggle finances in these trying times or a pilot program toward allowing a wider use of plastic at city hall.
It should also be an interesting test of whether people will act out of a sense of the common good rather than scrounge around and put additional costs on their fellow citizens.
For the last 10 years or so, the idea of letting folks use credits cards, and collect reward points, for major tax and utility bills has discussed. But it’s been shut down on a point of general fairness as the related transaction fees would have to be picked up by the tax base at large.
Those fees amount to more than two per cent in most cases – not insignificant on an annual utility tab or an average tax bill of about $2,200.
Small business owners know exactly how unfair this system is to them: it eats into margins for no reason other than offering minor convenience. It also raises prices and general shop keeps can’t charge individual customers the difference, as per the fine print in contracts.
So, let’s give it some thought.
Airmiles, for example, will provide you with one point for every $20 spent, so about 100 points on a $2,000 tax bill.
That’s better than nothing, but not by much; 95 miles will get you $10 off purchases at selected retailers.
Meanwhile the credit card company will charge the city about two per cent of the original purchase, or $40. That’s money that will have to be covered out of general revenue at city hall and most likely factored into next year’s tax requirement.
That gets spread around to all taxpayers, which doesn’t seem so bad when $40 is divided by 26,000 property tax accounts, but this is quicksand.
How about $16 million, or one-fifth the total property tax haul?
That’d cost $320,000, meaning everyone pays $12 so every fifth house gets a $10 coupon.
It should be a point not only of civic pride, but also common sense, to write a cheque when taxes are due on Sept. 30.
The province’s Bill 29 suggests a raft of changes to how local elections are held and paid for when Albertans next go to the polls in October 2021. Speaking of, the City of Medicine Hat had outlined that it would conduct a council renumeration study and bring in changes by this fall in the interests of having the typically controversial topic settled one-year prior to the next election.
Time marches on
Hey, eh, it’s Canada Day down Canada way this Wednesday.
Adding to the occasion, the year that seemingly has no end and no beginning will be officially half over when June becomes July. The lockdown that basically started on St. Patrick’s Day has now included Easter, as well as Mothers’ and Fathers’ Day, plus birthdays for about a quarter of the population over three months.
But let’s not let down our guard simply because we’re bored. Be smart out there.
A look ahead
Some processes at city hall will move to a more normal state of affairs in early July, including the welcoming back of the media to council meetings on July 6. You’re thrilled, we’re sure.
That same week the parks and rec department hopes to reopen some recreation facilities and bring the Family leisure Centre on in stages before August.
Collin Gallant covers city politics and a variety of topics for the News. Reach him at 403-528-5664 or via email at email@example.com