Group demands using power profits now for lower taxes, utilities

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Group demands using power profits now for lower taxes, utilities

May 2, 2024

A group that formed around protesting high utility prices says it’s looking to gain a seat at the table for city budget and utility talks, as well as expand to Redcliff and Cypress County and potentially backing candidates in the next municipal election.

“We want to advocate on behalf of ratepayers as an official association,” said Sou Boss, president of the Medicine Hat Utility Ratepayers Association.

“If a good five or six people came to us, believing in affordability and accountability, low utilities, low taxes, we might support them … It’s more than a year from now, but we’ll see.”

Business lobby groups like the Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Homebuilders Association often take part in consultation before issues are taken up by council, and the chamber has provided statements on issues such as tax ration and development fees when city budgets have been presented.

Boss has been outspoken that her group and residents in general should be part of an ongoing review of the city’s power business, and said her group has pressed the city on tax matters such as the city budget, as well.

“We’re calling for affordable taxes and utilities for all, and accountability from elected officials,” said Wes Pratt, a MHURA vice-president and the emcee of Tuesday’s “power and launch” party on at the Grandstand Room at the Medicine Hat Stampede grounds.

Last summer, Hatters rallied against high utility prices at a meeting organized by Boss at the Stampede grounds. Many then flocked to council where elected officials approved a relief package, an interim power rate and commissioned a third-party report calling for options on how the business unit operates.

“All these measures are temporary until we can see what’s in the review,” Boss told attendees.

The group’s priorities, she said, are gathering members, setting a direction and continuing to lobby City Hall and councillors for lower costs to taxpayers and consumers.

That review is loosely described as an examination of the city’s business philosophy, whether it should rely on power profits charged from citizens and to what degree they could or should subsidize the tax-supported municipal operating budget.

The group is specifically against the municipal consent and access fee, and has said a long-planned 4.4 per cent general property tax increase, amounting to about $5 million in additional revenue per year, should have been covered by record power plant profits in 2023.

Administrators have warned that there is a structural budget gap that needs to be addressed. As well, they told council recently, the city’s reserves are not as large as they appear when compared to what’s required over the next 10 years, during which power prices are expected to fall off dramatically.

Of the approximately $750 million held by the city, about one-third relates to cash on hand, working capital or restricted grants already forwarded by other governments. Another $200 million is in a Heritage Reserve funds that is set to begin paying a recurring, tax subsidizing dividend in the next few years. A substantial amount of the remainder will be needed to meet capital needs, like power plant reinvestment and rec facilities plan, as well as extinguishing liabilities, such as well closures,

Boss said the city hasn’t laid out a clear picture of capital needs or how the reserve funds will be dedicated except for what she called “pet projects.”

“They’re rolling in dough with no clear plan,” Boss told reporters.

Medicine Hat News Article

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