Councillor wants greater tax powers

By Phil Tank, The StarPhoenix August 16, 2013 - City officials are exploring the tax options available to raise $14 million by 2016 to pay for road repair and maintenance. But city manager Murray Totland said the city's powers to tax are limited, despite a suggestion by Coun. Charlie Clark at Wednesday's council meeting that a tax be considered for gas sold in the city.

"We would need a legislative change to allow cities to collect those taxes," Totland said in an interview Thursday. "That's the extent of it. Our abilities are through the property tax."

City council is divided over whether to back a three per cent property tax hike for the next three years or a so-called base tax of $170 for every property in the city regardless of value. Prince Albert, for example, uses a base tax model, Totland said.

Coun. Darren Hill asked about the possibility of a "hybrid" tax, which would include features of both a percentage-based tax increase and a flat fee, at Wednesday's meeting.

"That's perhaps possible.

We need to get a little more information on that," Totland said. "We need to talk to our legal folks and confirm that with our assessors."

Clark said Thursday that while a tax on gas sold in the city might not be feasible to address the immediate need for road repair, the city and other municipalities in the province must continue to lobby the provincial government to expand taxation powers so cities can keep pace with growth.

"It's up to the province to give us the ability to do that," Clark said. "As we see some of the challenges increase (with growth), this is the time to go and ask if we can revisit this."

Clark said any move toward a base tax would be contrary to the percentage approach on which the city's taxation model is based and adversely affect those with the least ability to pay.

Clark said people have approached him to suggest that some sort of userbased taxation model would be preferable.

"I think that has some merit because it's the use of the roads that requires them to be repaired," Clark said.

Totland said staff will look at how other cities have expanded their tax bases and report back to council in the fall on what taxation options are available.

The city eliminated an amusement tax on movie theatre tickets that had been in place since the 1920s in 2007.

In 2011, Hill and Coun. Pat Lorje each proposed the city collect a flat fee on vehicle registrations in Saskatoon to pay for road infrastructure, similar to an unpopular tax in Toronto that had been eliminated.

© The StarPhoenix 2013