A special tax that will primarily affect livestock producers in Lethbridge County was passed April 21 by the county’s council.
Producers will pay $3 per animal unit in 2016, while farmland owners will also be subject to an additional tax, all of which is expected to raise $2.6 million this year for road and bridge repairs.
The county held several meetings in March and April to explain its tax plan and it was met with concern by feedlot owners in particular because they will face the largest tax increase.
County reeve Lorne Hickey said council had few alternatives to raise additional funds because there is little money available from the provincial government and public safety must be protected when it comes to road and bridge maintenance.
The county estimated that it needs to collect another $3.5 million annually for the next 35 years to maintain what it called the “market access network.”
John Vander Heyden, who operates Grandview Cattle Feeders within the county, said he would face a tax increase of more than 2,300 percent this year on his feedlots alone due to the special tax.
That percentage will rise if the county follows through on plans to increase the per-animal-unit tax to $4 in 2017.
“The fact is, there’s nobody in the county listening. They’re not willing to listen,” said Vander Heyden about the tax.
“They’ve just got one intent and that intent is to just nail the feedlots however they get it. They don’t care whether its legitimate or not.”
In a paper it prepared in response to the tax plan, the Alberta Cattle Feeders Association estimated a tax increase of 200 percent or more in one year alone for its feedlot owner members.
“For a 25,000 head beef feedlot, the proposal would mean a $100,000 to $125,000 increase in local taxes,” the ACFA said in its paper.
There are about 500,000 cattle fed in the region, which is the heart of the cattle-feeding industry and has thus been dubbed feedlot alley. Cattle, feed and manure hauling are constant on county and provincial roads.
The tax plan also raised official objections from the ACFA and Alberta Beef Producers. Both organizations said it unfairly targeted cattle producers and feedlots and could encourage other rural municipalities to impose similar taxes.
That, in turn, could damage Alberta’s cattle industry, they said.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business has also criticized the tax and echoed views from ABP and ACFA that the county had not considered all options to raise the needed infrastructure funds.
In a news release announcing passage of the tax plan, Hickey said it was a difficult decision but the additional revenue raised through the tax would ensure a reliable transportation infrastructure “to get products to market and for residents to travel safely.”
Animal Unit Equivalents
Alberta Agriculture calculates animal units this way:
Cow, 1,000 lb. – 1 AU
Bull, 2 years or older – 1.5 AU
Yearling steers and heifers – .67 AU
Weaned calves – .5 AU
5 ewes – 1 AU
5 rams – 1.5 AU
Bison cow – 1.5 AU
Bison bull – 1.8 AU