The Municipalities Act and related legislation provide significant powers for ratepayers and residents of a municipality to play a direct role in that municipality’s decision making.
A recent example of ratepayers’ power to influence municipal decision making was displayed in the Rural Municipality of McKillop, Saskatchewan. In the summer of 2018, McKillop’s council approved a tax increase of 176% for residential property taxes. However, the council failed to approve the 2018 budget prior to passing the tax bylaws.
MLT Aikins was retained to represent a large group of concerned ratepayers who sought to have a fair and reasonable tax increase implemented in their RM. When negotiations failed, an application was made to strike the bylaws because they had been passed improperly. As a result of legal and political pressure, the council eventually amended its tax bylaws and implemented a less drastic tax increase.
There are two key takeaways for municipal councils and administrators.
First, the processes and procedures set out in The Municipalities Act must be followed – otherwise your bylaws and resolutions are at risk of being struck. Had McKillop’s council properly passed its tax bylaws, the strength of the ratepayers’ position would have been greatly diminished.
Second, transparency and fairness are paramount considerations when drafting and implementing bylaws and resolutions. Had McKillop’s council been more transparent in implementing its tax increase and been fair in distributing the increase across the different classes of property, then the reaction to the tax bylaws would not have been so severe.
The takeaways for ratepayers and residents of municipalities:
Any one ratepayer can apply to have a bylaw struck, and a large enough group of ratepayers can petition for a referendum on important issues.