There is an old adage that "the first casualty of war is truth." Some recent letters to the editor suggest that we might almost say the same about "taxes."
A number of recent attacks on city council have begun with an oft-repeated lament that Lethbridge taxes are the highest in the province. Given the fact the City of Edmonton got out of the business of compiling annual property tax statistics for Canadian cities about three years ago, and no one has stepped in to replace them, I wonder what this certainty is based on.
The date presented in the last Edmonton tax study did not support the assertion that Lethbridge has the highest property tax rate among similar-sized Alberta communities. That study indicated that Lethbridge taxes were above the provincial average for mid-sized cities but clearly not the highest.
Moreover, in comparing single-family property taxes for Lethbridge and the City of Calgary, I discovered that Lethbridge taxes were significantly lower, regardless of whether one used a "mean" or "median" average. If you added in multi-family units, the difference was skewed even more strongly in Lethbridge's favour. In the absence of any current property tax comparisons, I don't know whether these conclusions are still valid. But neither does anyone else.
The shaky foundation for often-repeated property tax comparisons has not prevented some from suggesting that Lethbridge's supposed tax disadvantage is reason enough to oppose city council's recent salary increase. While not wishing to enter into the debate on the increase itself, which saw salaries for the mayor and councillors established at a provincial average, the suggestion that council salaries be tied to tax rates presents some interesting problems. But there may be a simpler solution.
Rather than calculating council's pay package based on property-tax rates in Alberta, why not use a simpler, time-proven solution: an election? Next October's municipal election will provide voters with an opportunity to select the men and women best equipped to lead the city into the future. But one suggestion: don't tell voters that city hall only receives seven per cent of the taxes you pay each year - Edmonton and Ottawa divide up the other 93 per cent. I would keep that a secret.