With a lot of angry ratepayers in the RM of McKillop, located north of Regina, the province is stepping in to do some investigating.
On Wednesday morning, the province announced it has ordered an official inspection of the municipality.
Over the past week, taxpayers in the RM have been raising their voices over tax bills which jumped by thousands of dollars from last year.
“Lots of people have seen a $2,000 increase, and I’ve heard rumours of $4,000 to $5,000 on one bill alone,” said Brent Johnson, chair of the McKillop Taxpayer Network.
Johnson himself didn’t see a huge increase in his taxes – he recently built a new house on his lot – but he said a neighbour got a bill for $2,000 more than last year without changing anything on their land.
Kim Roberts is a resident of Collingwood Estates, which is located in the RM, and he said his taxes went up by nearly $5,000. He said another couple in the area saw their taxes also jump by over $3,000.
“They’re both retired living on a fixed income, how do these people expect people to pay this? My wife’s retired too and I work three days a week so I don’t want to go back full-time, like it’s not even fair,” Roberts said.
He questions why everyone isn’t being taxed the same amount if the RM is facing such a large deficit.
“Somebody’s got to step in here.”
The mill rate increase was passed in early August, but the outcry didn’t really begin until late last week when Johnson said people started getting their bills.
“That’s the problem with mill rates – people don’t really have a working knowledge of how it’s going to affect them until they see the bill, so as the bills hit the mail that’s when everybody took notice,” Johnson said.
Speaking before the inspection was announced, Johnson said the network was pushing for the RM council to go back and lower the mill rate.
“It’s not simple and it’s not straightforward, but I think considering the effect this is having they need to find another option.”
It’s law in Saskatchewan the municipalities have to run a balanced budget, but Johnson believes there are other options, like changing the expenses in the budget – he said there is a lot of money budgeted for legal fees – or taking out a loan to cover the cost overruns.
“It’s never good to be paying interest on an operating loan, but desperate times call for desperate measures.”
980 CJME has reached out to the RM for comment on the allegations but has yet to receive a reply.
Carol Ingham, a former senior municipal advisor with the Ministry of Public Relations, was appointed to lead the inspection. She retired from the minister in 2011.
Minister of Government Relations Warren Kaeding said it’s rare for the province to insert itself into the affairs of an RM.
“From time to time it is necessary to ensure the integrity of a community,” Kaeding said.
The inspection will look at the general operations of the RM, focusing on the status of voter petitions submitted to council, legal actions by or against the RM and the RM’s finances.
Kaeding said the inspection will just allow them to determine what has been going on within the RM of McKillop.
He said the province has met with Reeve Howard Arndt to discuss the tasks the inspector will be undertaking.
The inspection is expected to be finished by Sept. 15, 2018. Kaeding could not say if the report would be made public or not at this time.
— With files from Britton Gray