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Don't bite the hand that feeds you

Rob Leggett - "Always Right"

Ed. note: this column is half of a he-said/she-said exploration of the taxation contention between Celgar and the City of Castlegar. For a glimpse of the flip side of this particular coin, check out Out of Left Field by Kyra Hoggan. And don't forget to share your views and comments – your opinion is always welcome!

What would you do if you found that you were paying 12.1 times the amount in taxes compared to everyone else in the city? What if the city told you you had to pay $10,000 in taxes on your $232,000 home? If you are Zellstoff Celgar, you'd do the right thing and you'd fight it.

Obviously, taking this to the B.C. Supreme Court was not Celgar’s first choice, and for over three years they have repeatedly tried to resolve this issue with the City of Castlegar, only to have their requests for serious discussion ignored. Mill manager Al Hitzroth told me that he does not believe mayor and council have been trying to work with Celgar and that, since he has been here, he has met with the city four times, made three formal presentations at the mill and one at council, and yet hasn’t received any written response from anyone. Concerning a possible tax rate reduction, he went on to say, “whether 40 per cent, 20 per cent or 10 per cent, the city has not come to us and talked to us to say, 'this is what we are prepared to do'”.

The City of Castlegar has completed large, costly projects, like the new City Hall, virtually debt-free, while asking Celgar to shoulder over 40 per cent of the city’s cumulative tax budget ... while providing Celgar little in return. In fact, Celgar does not use municipal sewer or water services, as it has its own effluent treatment system and water license and water pumping station; it does not use the municipal landfill but has its own; nor does it use any of the recreational facilities, the library or parks. It would appear the city would like much in return for so little.

As an additional insult to the city’s apparent unwillingness to work constructively to ease Celgar’s unreasonable tax burden, is elgar's understanding that a deal was made with one Castlegar taxpayer allowing it to pay millions less than the amount required by the published municipal tax rate. Yet mayor Lawrence Chernoff has said, “As far as we are concerned the taxes are reasonable...” If this is what Chernoff means by “reasonable”, it's not hard to understand why Celgar is the only real key industry left in the Castlegar area.

It is astonishing that the city has not been more receptive to Celgar’s repeated requests of a tax reduction, since the mill employs approximately 398 people and is the only major employer left in Castlegar. With Interfor still closed and no indication of it re-opening anytime in the future, the city should examine the social implications and lost revenue if Celgar was to close its doors as well, should this area ever become financially burdensome.

While a simple tax reduction could never resolve all the economic problems Celgar currently faces, it could very well be the deciding factor in staying in operation or not and, sadly, given the situation and the city’s apparent unwillingness to work with Celgar, if a decision ever does need to be made, it may not be a favourable one.Ed. note: this column is half of a he-said/she-said exploration of the taxation contention between Celgar and the City of Castlegar. For a glimpse of the the flip side of this particular coin, check out Out of Left Field by Kyra Hoggan. And don't forget to share your views and comments – your opinion is always welcome!

What would you do if you found that you were paying 12.1 times the amount in taxes compared to everyone else in the city? What if the city told you you had to pay $10,000 in taxes on your $232,000 home? If you are Zellstoff Celgar, you'd do the right thing and you'd fight it. <--break->

Obviously, taking this to the B.C. Supreme Court was not Celgar’s first choice, and for over three years they have repeatedly tried to resolve this issue with the City of Castlegar, only to have their requests for serious discussion ignored. Mill manager Al Hitzroth told me that he does not believe mayor and council have been trying to work with Celgar and that, since he has been here, he has met with the city four times, made three formal presentations at the mill and one at council, and yet hasn’t received any written response from anyone. Concerning a possible tax rate reduction, he went on to say, “whether 40 per cent, 20 per cent or 10 per cent, the city has not come to us and talked to us to say, 'this is what we are prepared to do'”.

The City of Castlegar has completed large, costly projects, like the new City Hall, virtually debt-free, while asking Celgar to shoulder over 40 per cent of the city’s cumulative tax budget ... while providing Celgar little in return. In fact, Celgar does not use municipal sewer or water services, as it has its own effluent treatment system and water license and water pumping station; it does not use the municipal landfill but has its own; nor does it use any of the recreational facilities, the library or parks. It would appear the city would like much in return for so little.

As an additional insult to the city’s apparent unwillingness to work constructively to ease Celgar’s unreasonable tax burden, is elgar's understanding that a deal was made with one Castlegar taxpayer allowing it to pay millions less than the amount required by the published municipal tax rate. Yet mayor Lawrence Chernoff has said, “As far as we are concerned the taxes are reasonable...” If this is what Chernoff means by “reasonable”, it's not hard to understand why Celgar is the only real key industry left in the Castlegar area.

It is astonishing that the city has not been more receptive to Celgar’s repeated requests of a tax reduction, since the mill employs approximately 398 people and is the only major employer left in Castlegar. With Interfor still closed and no indication of it re-opening anytime in the future, the city should examine the social implications and lost revenue if Celgar was to close its doors as well, should this area ever become financially burdensome.

While a simple tax reduction could never resolve all the economic problems Celgar currently faces, it could very well be the deciding factor in staying in operation or not and, sadly, given the situation and the city’s apparent unwillingness to work with Celgar, if a decision ever does need to be made, it may not be a favourable one.