What is the Market Access Network?
The County owns and maintains approximately 2,000 km (1250 mi) of paved and gravel roads and 167 bridges. In 2014, the County conducted a haul route network review which prioritized routes based on traffic volumes, local business operations and residential density. This review identified the key roads required to get the producers’ commodities to market. This is simply called the Market Access Network.
Why does the County need more money for the Market Access Network?
Road users know the County faces challenges keeping the transportation network in its current condition. More money is needed to reinvest in the Market Access Network for the next 35 years. The standards the network was built to in the 1950's-1980s did not anticipate the size and volume of today’s heavy haulers.
The County has an obligation to protect and preserve its existing investment. Maintenance and repair costs increase exponentially as the state of repair or condition deteriorates.
How did the County determine the suggested funding options?
Agricultural assessment has been frozen since 1995. Farmland assessment is $156 Million out of the total $1.7 Billion in assessment. A way of collecting additional revenue is needed. The Municipal Government Act (MGA) has limited opportunities by which tax revenue can be collected. Working with County lawyers, the implementation of the business tax to livestock producers is determined to be the best solution offered under the MGA.
- $3.5 million be raised for roads and bridges
- Residential and non-residential assessment classes are not to increase because of this initiative
- Fair and equitable among users
- Must meet the requirements of the MGA
- Solutions will be reviewed and revised annually
How much is this costing taxpayers?
The funds will be mainly collected from a business tax on livestock. The business tax to producers will be based on a fee per animal unit. Residential and non-residential (commercial/industrial) properties will not see an increase in their taxes from this initiative.
100% of the money collected will be used specifically for the maintenance and reconditioning of the Market Access Network. No funds will be used in the general operations of the County.
Why did the County implement a Business Tax for livestock producers?
Lethbridge County adopted a Business Tax Bylaw (Bylaw No. 1165) in 1998. That Bylaw intended to tax Livestock Confinement and Ranch Operations as well as other businesses. Prior to the County acting on the bylaw to implement the tax, the Province undertook the MLA Farm Property Assessment Issues Review.
The committee noted on page 4 of the report that:
“In particular, municipalities are finding that significant spending increases may be necessary to maintain the roads used by trucks moving animals, produce or supplies to and from intensive agricultural operations. Local governments are restricted, however, in their ability to ensure that the new enterprises are contributing a fair share of tax dollars for those additional infrastructure costs. Municipal councils have little capacity to address this concern, largely because of limitations in the current legislation and regulations for farm land assessment.”
That committee issued its final report in 2002 and unfortunately, the committee’s recommendations have never been implemented by the Alberta Government. Accordingly, the County has now revisited the need to proceed with implementing the bylaw.
How has the number of units for the Business Tax been determined?
The County is using information from approved license amounts and the Agricultural Operation Practices Act (AOPA) conversion rates to calculate animal units for livestock producers. Gravel tonnage weights have been estimated for the purposes of this calculation.
What benefits will result from the Business Tax?
By providing dedicated long term predictable funding, the transportation network benefits include:
- Reduced road restrictions
- Bridges remain open
- Safe transportation for all users
- Reliable delivery of products to market
Why does the County need the additional revenue now? Can it be deferred to another year?
A municipality has a responsibility of developing a level of service that meets the community’s needs. Lethbridge County is unique, in that it has the highest concentration of intensive livestock operations in Alberta. County producers create their goods for market using static and mobile infrastructure. Static infrastructure includes feedlots, barns and irrigation canals. Mobile infrastructure includes tractors, heavy haulers, seeding and spraying equipment.
The County needs to reinvest in its static infrastructure (roads/bridges) to match the needs of the producers’ mobile infrastructure (tractors/heavy haulers) to stay ahead of deterioration rates. If the County doesn’t re-invest now, potential risks include:
- Imminent road and bridge closures;
- Increasing safety risks (including unsafe school bus routes);
- Increasing liability risks to the County;
- Stopping movement of producers’ mobile infrastructure.
Why is some of the revenue going to reserves?
In order to plan major projects, funds will have to be held in reserves. These funds must be available in order to access Federal and Provincial grant funding or fund major project costs that exceed the average annual revenue collected.
What are the priority Market Access Network routes?
When the County undertook the Haul Route Network review, the prioritization list was identified based on traffic volumes, number of livestock operations and residential density.
How was the priority order for fixing roads/bridges determined?
The worst roads will not necessarily be fixed first. Safety of roads and minimizing liability risks will take precedence. Maintaining the Market Access Network in a manner that keeps the cost of hauling as economical as possible will also be an important factor. The County wants to avoid lengthy detours.
What has the County done to minimize the tax increase?
The County has conducted several efficiency reviews, which resulted in the elimination of 2 staff positions: 1 full-time and 1 part-time. A Highway Protection Bylaw has been introduced that allows for preventative measures to minimize damages to the roads. The County is also exploring alternative revenue sources through economic development initiatives.
Why doesn't Lethbridge County get a fair share of the gas tax fund and other tax dollars?
The gas tax fund makes up part of all the tax dollars paid in Canada, which includes personal, corporate, GST, and others; of which, Canadian municipalities receive just 8 cents from every tax dollar paid. Tax monies are distributed through grants and are generally allocated on a per capita basis. This provides municipalities with very little money for infrastructure, even though municipalities own 60 percent of the country’s infrastructure.
The County has lobbied all levels of government to increase our share of the gas tax due to our unique situation. However, we have not yet been successful in convincing government to provide us with additional funding.
Is there an option for the County to have one bridge designed and use this for several bridge replacements saving the County fees?
No. Alberta Transportation requires an independent engineering file for every bridge construction. There are several variables involved in replacing/upgrading a bridge such as elevation differences, span, slope, road construction and capacity.
Prepared by PWMC in consultation with Lethbridge County.