Town, county hit by big cost of carbon tax

Richard Froese
South Peace News

A carbon tax introduced in Alberta one year ago has forced the Town of High Prairie and Big Lakes County to dig deeper.

Town taxpayers were directly hit with a cost of about $27,000, says Mayor Brian Panasiuk.

However, a significant portion of that figure is accounted to utilities at the Sports Palace, Gordon Buchanan Recreation Centre and the High Prairie Regional Aquatic Centre under the High Prairie and District Regional Recreation Board.

“Approximately half of that amount was from the recreation department, mainly for heating the arenas and swimming pool,” Panasiuk says.

“The other half was for the other departments in the town.”

As the carbon tax levies increase in 2018, so will the costs for the town.

“Based on the increases, the town can expect the carbon tax will cost the ratepayers of High Prairie about $40,500 in 2018,” says Panasiuk, who was elected mayor on Oct. 16, 2017 after serving a four-year term as councillor.

But the cost in the initial year was much lower than administration predicted.

“We didn’t’ get hit as hard as I thought we would,” CAO Brian Martinson says.

He notes the utilities of the High Prairie Curling Rink are paid by the curling club.

Big Lakes County also felt the crunch, although no records specified the impact of the carbon tax.

“It’s always a concern because it’s an extra cost to the taxpayers,” Reeve Ken Matthews says.

“Any increase to taxpayers is not good.”

He says the county is able to access reserve funds to cover any unexpected increase in costs.

Covering a wide area, the county has a large fleet of vehicles and heavy equipment and buildings affected by the carbon tax, he says.

“It will eventually cost more down the road,” Matthews says.

“It’s hard to pass along the carbon tax without affecting the ratepayers.”

He’s also not that optimistic about new tax.

“I haven’t seen any benefits to the carbon tax,” Matthews says.

Impacts of the carbon tax were reflected in the 2017 budget, says Heather Nanninga, director of corporate services, who started work for the county in 2017 on June 19.

The county increased costs for mileage by 5 per cent, fuel by 6 per cent, electrical and project power by each by 10 per cent, natural gas by 20 per cent and project freight by 6 percent.

“We’ve been monitoring our historic fuel and utility usage, and budgeted according to the trends we expect,” Nanninga says

“This will be an ongoing project through our final budget in April.”

Panasiuk notes the indirect cost of the carbon tax is that it takes one employee one day a month to track, collect and remit the carbon tax to the provincial government on behalf of the gas department that sells natural gas.

“We also know that businesses may have passed on some of their costs related to the carbon levy on to consumers, like the town,” Panasiuk says.

“This is an indirect cost that is a difficult cost to quantify.”

Implemented on Jan. 1, 2017, the initial levies were set for gasoline at 4.49 cents per litre, diesel at 5.35 cents per litre, propane at 3.08 cents per litre with natural gas at $1.011 per gigajoule.

For 2018, the levies jumped on Jan. 1 for gasoline to 6.73 cents, for diesel to 8.08 cents, for propane to 4.62 cents, and natural gas to $1.517 per gigajoule.

Projecting the costs to municipalities and other consumers was somewhat unpredictable.

“Last year when discussing the new carbon tax, there were many things that we did not know at the time,” Panasiuk says.

“For example would municipalities get a rebate on the carbon tax?

“How difficult was it going to be to collect and remit this tax on behalf of our government for our gas department?

“With so many unanswered questions at the time of budget discussions, I think that some departments may have over-estimated the costs of the carbon tax.”

He trusts that local businesses were supported from rebates to residential consumers.

“We know that many of the residents of High Prairie will have received the carbon levy rebates,” Panasiuk says.

“It is likely that some of the local businesses will have benefited from the residents spending this rebate locally.”

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