B.C. VIEWS: How to cure the community cash crunch

Premier Christy Clark's government will be asked to end a couple of decades of meddling in local government financing

Local government representatives vote at last year's Union of B.C. Municipalities convention.

Local politicians from across B.C. are in Vancouver Sept. 16 to 20 to take part in the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities convention.

There will be trivia reported as news, such as the cost of hotels. Suggestions to license mobility scooters or lower speed limits to 40 km/h, dreamed up in Vancouver Island retirement locales, will be rejected by delegates from the rest of the province.

Serious discussion will revolve around a report by a UBCM executive committee to reshape the financial relationship between the province and local governments. If this proposal gets the support it deserves, Premier Christy Clark’s government will be asked to undo a couple of decades of political meddling in that relationship.

One problem for local governments is that they depend on property tax, a stable source of revenue but one that has no relationship to the property owner’s ability to pay. It tends to load costs onto lower-income groups such as seniors and renters.

Economic growth results mainly in increased corporate and personal income tax revenues as well as sales taxes, which aren’t shared with local governments.

One key proposal is to return to a system of revenue sharing grants introduced by the Social Credit government in the 1980s. They were funded by one point each from personal and corporate income tax and six per cent of sales, fuel and resource tax revenues, thus increasing in years when provincial revenues were strong.

The UBCM proposal is to put a share of provincial revenues into an infrastructure bank, to be distributed by the organization on a more stable basis.

Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard, one of the authors of the report, uses a basketball analogy to describe the current system of federal-provincial grants for road and bridge projects. It’s a “jump ball,” where communities have to apply to a fund when it’s offered and then see who gets it.

Even if a community wins the jump ball, they may find themselves with costs inflated by a hot construction market and an arbitrary deadline to get the job done.

Then there are new regulations imposed by senior governments. The most dramatic example these days is a 2020 federal deadline for Greater Victoria to construct land-based sewage treatment. Even with federal and provincial cost sharing, this project is going to land heavily on property tax bills, including those of pensioners and poor renters who will have it passed on to them.

Leonard points to another arbitrary system, provincial facilities that pay grants in lieu of property taxes. Saanich is home to the University of Victoria, a community of 25,000 people that needs water and sewer service, as well as police and fire protection. Saanich gets an annual grant in lieu of property taxes of $120,000 for UVic, enough to cover wages and benefits for one cop and maybe some gas money.

Cariboo Regional District chair Al Richmond, co-chair of the UBCM committee, is concerned about new water and flood protection legislation the province is preparing to impose. His district and others like it have thousands of kilometres of riverfront, with relatively few property owners.

Interior communities also want BC Hydro to pay something for power lines, as is now being done with some aboriginal territories.

Local politicians will be expecting a sympathetic ear from the new version of the B.C. Liberal government. Former Quesnel councillor Coralee Oakes is the new community, sport and cultural development minister, with direct responsibility for local government issues.

And one of the original members of this UBCM committee was former Langley City mayor Peter Fassbender, who is now minister of education.

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalNews.com. Twitter:@tomfletcherbc

 

Just Posted

Seabird Island opens 50th annual festival

The weekend festival will see First Nations teams compete in soccer, three-pitch and canoe races

LETTER: Agassiz’s amazing new pump station

Edward Monro talks about Hammersley Pump, but also the need for driver support on Mount Woodside

LETTER: E-Comm makes connections for ambulance

E-Comm’s executive director explains why ambulances aren’t in their jurisidiction

Agassiz study to look at drone use for pesticide application

The study will be the first in Canada to use drones to apply pesticides to farm fields

Lofty plans for Chilliwack school district revealed

Chilliwack school district draws up plan to add 2,900 student seats in five years

VIDEO: Quadriplegic man takes flight over Harrison Mills

Jim Ryan hasn’t moved his arms or legs for three years, but that didn’t stop him from paragliding

Kamloops girl, 9, recovering from carbon monoxide poisoning now out of ICU

Her mother who was sleeping in the same tent with her did not survive

UPDATE: Surrey RCMP say boy, 11, missing for two days found safe

Dominic Mattie was last seen at 5 p.m. in the 13500-block of Gateway Drive in Surrey

‘I think he’s still alive’: B.C. mom pleads for help finding son last seen a month ago

Family offering $5,000 reward for information leading to the safe return of Tim Delahaye

New poll suggests one-third don’t want politicians to wear religious symbols

Local politicians shouldn’t be allowed to wear hijabs, crucifixes or turbans on the job, survey suggests

Raptors fans far from home adjust plans to watch pivotal playoff game

Raptors currently lead the playoff series 3-2, and a win Saturday would vault them into NBA finals

PHOTOS: First responders in Fernie rescue baby owl who fell from nest

The baby owl’s inability to fly back to its nest prompted a rescue by first responders

Five takeaways from the Court of Appeal ruling on B.C.’s pipeline law

It’s unclear how many tools are left in B.C.’s toolbox to fight the project

Most Read