Fort McMurray gives wildfire-affected homeowners another year of property tax relief

Fort McMurray region's economic growth expected to outpace Edmonton, Calgary and Red Deer

Fort McMurray residents whose homes were destroyed or damaged beyond repair in last May's wildfire won't have to pay their municipal property taxes.

In a unanimous vote Tuesday, the Wood Buffalo municipal council approved the tax relief for homes that have not been rebuilt.

In addition to the municipal portion of the property tax, Wood Buffalo will also ask the province to waive its share of the tax on affected homeowners and make up for the estimated $1.3-million revenue shortfall on its own.

Last May's wildfire is considered Canada's costliest disaster for insurers. The fire destroyed more than 2,400 structures in Fort McMurray. Wood Buffalo council previously waived the municipal property tax for wildfire victims in 2016.

Coun. Sheldon Germain moved the motion and said the tax break is optional and homeowners can volunteer to pay it. However, most wildfire victims need the helping hand, he said.

"The fact that they are not enjoying their lots and access to Wood Buffalo municipal services, we should extend this relief," Germain said.

Some residents oppose the move

Resident Arianna Johnson, who lost her home during the wildfire, spoke against the motion. She said the exemption should not apply to people who own several investment properties and can afford to pay their taxes.

"The more tax breaks that are given, the more burden this municipality will have to bear," Johnson said. "I am asking you all to consider an amendment."

Jim Rogers said he owns several properties that were destroyed in the wildfire and he doesn't consider them investments.

"[Paying taxes on those properties] does represent a hardship that myself and my family will be subject to," Rogers said. 

Follow David Thurton, CBC's Fort McMurray correspondent, on Facebook, Twitter or contact him via email.