Has the City-Rural Tax Base and Land-Use Balance Changed in Alberta? Explorations into the Distribution of Equalized Property Assessments Among Municipality Classes
University of Calgary, School of Public Policy Publications, Volume 11:6, February 2018
31 Pages Posted: 13 Feb 2018
Date Written: February 5, 2018
Alberta ended its regional planning commissions in 1996. They were replaced by voluntary inter-municipal negotiation, but this has raised concerns about adverse effects on land use. Pressure to terminate the commissions came largely from the rural municipalities. Some of them felt the commissions retarded their economic development. They believed that in a less restrictive planning environment, they would be able to attract a greater share of development, especially business. This study assesses the consequences of that change. Alberta’s rapid growth over much of the post-1995 period affords an exceptional opportunity to search for noticeable changes in the urban-rural tax base and land-use patterns and balance. Municipal tax base is measured, and land use reflected, by property values. Those values are taken to be the provincially determined equalized assessments used for property tax purposes. Fortunately, these provide a reliable and consistent measure of property values across municipalities and over time for properties of different kinds. For the types of properties of prime interest for this analysis, residential and unregulated business property, equalized assessments approximate 100 per cent of market value. Residential property represents over 60 per cent of total provincial equalized assessments and business property about 20 per cent. In cities, the percentages are 70 per cent and 24 per cent; residential and business properties represent almost all the taxable property. The focus of the analysis is whether, during the past two decades, the shares of residential and/or business property have shifted from cities to rural municipalities. The possibility of shifting city-rural tax base/land-use patterns is explored from four perspectives. This report examines trends in the distribution of residential and business equalized assessments among the types of municipalities in the province. To obtain a better perspective in specific cases, the city-rural split of assessments is reported for the Edmonton and Calgary metropolitan areas and nine cities between 1997 and 2014. Examining the movements in the ratios of business to residential assessments of 31 city and rural municipalities provides further insight. The final approach is to simply review changes in the location of population and dwellings between cities and rural areas. There has been no notable or general shift of land development away from cities and to rural areas. Despite the rapid growth and the devolved planning environment, the cityversus-rura distribution of tax base and land use has, overall, been remarkably constant although development was definitely not uniform across Alberta cities. If anything the cities’ shares of residential development may have increased while their shares of business development have been more uneven. For both types of property, however, the development patterns have varied across both city and rural municipalities. Concern that the changed planning environment might have shifted property development towards the rural municipalities does not appear to have been justified. Whether this development met other planning criteria is not explored here. This analysis encourages more detailed investigations using alternative indicators.
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