COUNCIL MISCELLANY: More weight on municipal shoulders as towns hoist massive regional tax increase

Andrew Bennett
By Andrew Bennett
April 25th, 2013

“Downloading” was a hot topic at council on Monday evening as councillors lamented a large increase in the regional tax burden that will be foisted on residents when their property tax bills arrive this year.

Coun. Jill Spearn started things off, asking Coun. Kathy Wallace for her comments on the hospital requisition of $206,880—the portion paid by Rossland—a large hike of roughly 8 per cent over last year as the hospital tries to squirrel away $2 million into a reserve fund to prepare for future upgrades.


“It is what it is,” said Wallace, who sits as a representative on the board. She noted that the province “tells Interior Health what their funds are,” and there is an in-depth process to “identify priority capital items.”


Mayor Greg Granstrom didn’t mince his words, reflecting the frustration of municipalities across Canada that costs that should be borne by provincial or federal governments are ‘downloaded’ to the municipal level. 


“Health is the responsibility of the province,” Granstrom said, “but here we go again with another $206,000. Everyone in the community should know this when they get their tax notice. We can’t afford to continue to do this.”


Coun. Kathy Moore agreed, “but we’re not likely to change that. What we can do,” she continued, “is communicate to the city so citizens understand.” 


Regional District tax requisition hits $1.45 million


Moore suggested a pie chart or another easy, visual way to convey the message that regional government is not only a big eater of the taxpayer pie, but the regional gluttons (to carry the metaphor) are guilty of slicing ever bigger pieces.


Granstrom strongly supported the idea of such an information sheet in the tax notice. He added, “We don’t receive any funding to send out the tax notices, that’s just another download.”


Spearn asked, “We’re accountable to our taxpayers, but who are they [the regional district] ultimately responsible to? This layer of ‘regional district’ does not seem accountable to anyone, and then we have to do the dirty work [of collecting the taxes.]”


“I believe strongly,” she continued, “that we should explain this to our taxpayers in large font. It’s horrendous, the costs of this regional district. We have to have some of these services, it’s a given, but every year things go up, and then we have to justify at this [municipal] level for the regional district.”


Answering Spearn’s question, Granstrom pointed to Wallace and said, “We have a say in the regional district and she tries her best. That’s who they’re accountable to, the communities.”


Spearn acknowledged, “There’s nothing we can do at this point except voice our concerns about it.”


“I feel the same frustration as you,” Wallace said, and noted that over half a million dollars are in the fire service, mostly for medical first responses. “That’s health, and it’s supposed to be provincial,” she said.


Wallace also added the huge expense of regional sewer to the list. “For a few years they’ve been drawing on reserves to keep it afloat,” she said, but this has left the service precariously vulnerable to emergency costs.


Coun. Jody Blomme threw the “painful number” of BC Transit’s East End fee into the mix. “It’s exorbitant,” she said. “We’re at the whims of BC Transit.” She noted her hope the BC Transit will work towards smaller buses “more like shuttle buses rather than the huge ones we have.”


“The frustration continues,” the mayor said, returning to the fact that regional budgets have increased dramatically over the years, while taxes that stay in Rossland have been kept flat for three years.


Coun. Tim Thatcher looked at the entire Regional District of Kootenay Boundary budget of $33 million: “How big of a city would a $33 million budget be?” he asked. “That’s a heck of a lot of money.”


Moore briefly tried to justify the large figure: “The regional district is pretty big,” she reasoned, and then asked Wallace, “Do you know the population?”


“About 30,000 people,” Wallace said.


“Okay, I take that back,” Moore said, returning to the broad consensus that the region is over-funded.


This discussion isn’t over


Spearn raised a motion for council to discuss the regional budget in more detail at a committee of the whole (COW) after this year’s budget process—the top priority until the deadline for municipal financial plans on May 15—is complete.


“Let’s go through it, understand it, and communicate it to the community,” Spearn said.


Wallace replied, “I would appreciate that. It’s a complicated budget, and I’ve developed my understanding of it over the last four years. I would appreciate council being more informed to help me, and also to inform the community.”


Council carried the motion.


Council won’t take any guff from cheapo provincial MLA candidates


A motion came to council to waive the rental fees at the Miners’ Hall for the upcoming provincial all-candidates meeting being organized by the Chamber of Commerce and The Rossland Telegraph  in advance of the May election, but council voted it down.


Wallace noted that it’s important for citizens to have an opportunity to hear and meet the candidates, so she argued waiving the rental fee—approximately $100—was an “appropriate use” of city funds.


Granstrom took another view, pointing out that the Rotary-organized all-candidates for the municipal election required candidates to pay $35.


“It’s pretty sad when we poor municipal government candidates have to buck up, but the level up doesn’t,” he said. “Having said that, it’s not a significant amount of money.”


Moore did not support the waiver either, particularly after the city recently opted to charge a local family a $150 rental fee for the hall to host an event as a fundraiser to support the education of their autistic child. 


“On principle,” Blomme also opposed the waiver, and suggested a donation tin at the front might be one way for the event to recover the rental fee without charging the candidates.


The motion for a fee waiver was defeated, with only Wallace and Thatcher in favour.


Meanwhile, CBT continues to fund everybody for everything


Granstrom mentioned a new Columbia Basin Trust (CBT) program with $200,000 per year for five years in “community-directed funds” for “community-driven projects.”


“It must be a project for all communities coming together. It’s a great idea,” he said, noting that the discussion at the moment has focused on which group will administer the program. Currently the Lower Columbia Community Development Team (LCCDT) is a likely candidate.


And Rossland just might be feeling the tingle of new financial blood


Blomme noted that Tourism Rossland has recently calculated the town’s accommodation revenue from large establishments for February of this year, coming in well over a half million dollars.


“It’s the best month ever, ” she said, up from the previous best month—January, 2013—and about $100,000 more than February, 2012.


In other good news, Rossland may soon have a sister


As council’s jets cooled towards the end of the evening, the mayor broke the news “hot off the press” that the community of Surnadal in Norway, the hometown of Olaus Jeldness, have a motion on the floor to ask their council whether they would like to become the “Sister City” of Rossland.


“We’ll know their decision on Wednesday,” Granstrom said, “then we’ll bring that to council to see if we agree.”


“What does that mean? Does that cost us money?” Spearn asked, keeping to the evening’s theme of frugality.


“No, neither one of us is rolling in the dough,” Granstrom replied. “It’s an expression of friendship and the skiing heritage we share.”


Note: Coun. Cary Fisher did not attend Monday’s meeting.


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