RMWB council approves tax exemptions for industries new to Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo

The program hopes to bring new people and industries to the Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo region while encouraging young people to stay.

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Council has approved a program offering up to 10 years of low municipal taxes for new industries in the natural resources sector.

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Patrick White from the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo’s (RMWB) legal services told council at their Tuesday meeting the bylaw is designed to boost the population. He hopes the program brings new people and industries to the Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo region while encouraging young people to stay.

The bylaw targets new projects with a minimum eligible capital cost of $25 million. The project must bring at least 250 employees during construction or maintain 15 staff while operating.

It offers a 1 per cent exemption on eligible capital costs and 2.5 per cent if the company offers housing benefits. The total exemption would be no more than 80 per cent.

The exemption lasts 10 years for projects valued at $50 million and five years if they are valued at $25 million, or until the maximum is reached.

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Eligible companies and projects must not have a commute of more than an hour from Fort McMurray. Work camps are not eligible for the program. White compared the program to similar incentives offered by the municipal governments in Strathcona County and Sturgeon County.

White says the thresholds are designed for companies and their employees to become established within Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo. Lower thresholds seen in other companies would not work locally, he said, because it increases the risk of smaller companies coming in to compete with existing businesses. There is also a fear those smaller businesses would leave once the exemptions ended.

Councillors Keith McGrath and Jane Stroud were concerned similar exemptions are not being offered to existing businesses in the community. They were told the program’s intent was to bring new companies and new investment to the region.

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However, McGrath wondered if companies using a transient workforce would offer housing incentives if offered a similar program.

Councillor Funky Banjoko wondered why the program focuses only on the natural resource sector. White says manufacturing companies that service the oilsands could also sell products globally.

“Like companies like to settle together. Birds flock together. They have all the infrastructure and the other companies they can work with,” said White. “We would like to curate a hub up here.”

Council approved the program, with only Councillor Kendrick Cardinal opposed.

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