By TREENA MIELKE
Around 150 people crowded into the Rimbey Community Centre March 22 to listen to council’s 2011 budget proposal and to fire questions at the mayor and council, mostly concerning its decision to kill tax incentives.
The crowd listened quietly while Mayor Sheldon Ibbotson went through the reasoning behind the 2011 draft budget, which shows a surplus of $18,681 and a 3.5-per-cent tax increase.
However, the calm was disrupted during the question and answer period following the budget presentation when a steady stream of angry businessmen took the opportunity to lash out at council about the decision to chop the tax incentives. Their accusations and threats to halt development seemed to override Ibbotson’s reasoning that council had received legal opinion the incentives are illegal.
His statement that if the tax incentives were restored, residents could face a tax increase of 11 per cent, appeared to fall on deaf ears.
“You’re going to make this a ghost town,” said contractor Dennis Pendergast.
Stan Cummings, who owns the Best Western Rimstone Ridge Hotel, said the tax incentives were a definite drawing card when he set up his business four years ago.
“Without this (tax incentive) I will not proceed with any further development,” he said.
Cummings said his tax bill will experience a ‘huge jump’ without the tax break.
Ian Giebelhaus, who co-owns Rimbey Vet Clinic with Grady Barton, said he built a new vet clinic last year with the understanding that he would experience only small increases for five years. However, he said without the tax incentive his taxes will jump from $3,500 a year to $12,000.
“I expected them to go up, but not 350 per cent the first year.”
Businessman Chris Reitz, who opened a lighting business in town five years ago and has six employees, fears for the future of Rimbey with the tax incentives eliminated.
“I’m scared. I have a new apprentice coming, but I’m ready to suggest that he doesn’t come here. I am concerned about the future.”
In a letter read by Grady Barton, commercial property owners Duane and Nancy Adams expressed their concern over the elimination of the rebates.
“Although the rebate is not a large amount of money it is what it was designed to be, an incentive to attract investment and hopefully new businesses, and, in turn, new residents to town.”
Rimbey librarian Jean Keetch was one of the few people in the crowd who defended council’s decision.
“You say we are going to have a ghost town. Well, where in the heck are you going to go, if there are no other places that offer the incentives if they are illegal. We have a completely new council here and you can’t expect one council to keep the promises made by another council.”
Retired resident Erick Hornsey said fighting and arguing will not solve the problem. “The town as a whole needs to pull together, not fight each other.”
Councillors, with the exception of Joe Anglin, were all in attendance at the public meeting, although Jack Webb was late.
Coun. Paul Payson defended council’s decision.
“This is not something we did flippantly. I did not, however, get elected to have the town not obeying Alberta laws,” he said.
Mayor Ibbotson said he is satisfied with the legal opinion of lawyers Brownlee LLP that the tax incentive plan is illegal.
He does not see the need to seek another legal opinion. “I feel that’s opinion shopping.”
The tax incentive plan affects more than 100 properties in town. A total of $133,000 of new revenue will be generated if it is discontinued.