Mayor unveils four-point plan for Celgar situation
Castlegar Mayor Lawrence Chernoff, at city council’s regular meeting Monday night, unveiled a four-point plan to deal with the fallout of Celgar refusing to pay its municipal tax bill. Celgar’s move left the city with a roughly $2.8 million budget shortfall and a legal battle to cope with, and Chernoff said he feels it’s important the community understands there are plans in place to see the city through this difficult time.
“My biggest concern is looking after the people of Castlegar,” Chernoff said. “We have to continue to provide them with important safety and health services, from fire and police to sewage and water.”
The first step, he said, is for council to explore the short- and long-term implications of Celgar’s actions, and to that end a standing committee on major industry tax was struck at the council meeting, consisting of the mayor and councillors Kevin Chernoff and Russ Hearne.
Point two is as follows, “We’re going to continue to try (to) have a dialogue with the company involved, although the legal actions they have taken make this somewhat difficult,” said Chernoff. “The bottom line is that they are a member of our community, and there is a cost that is attached to this.”
Third on the list of plans is for the city to “reach out to the federal government, to offer to work with them, and to make sure they understand the need to provide bridging support to the forest industry, so that industry can continue to meet its obligations to the communities (it) operates in.”
Chernoff added the city has already undertaken point four, which he said is to engage the province to “explore solutions”. He said there has been discussion of the province forming a task force to deal with the issue of major industry refusing to pay taxes, and he hopes to see Castlegar at that particular table.
“We’re not the only community being hurt in this manner,” he said.”It isn’t going to be easy, but I get the sense that senior levels of government understand the urgency and importance of this matter.”
Meanwhile, council’s newly-formed standing committee is tasked with looking at funding implications and solutions to the city’s now very-different budget landscape, while re-evaluating the city’s tax ratios.
“The committee would review the city’s current and planned Major Industry tax rate as set out in the city’s five-year financial plan,” explained the staff report recommending the committee’s formation. “It would consider appropriate changes to the tax ratios for future budgets. It would provide direction to implement council’s direction to reduce or delay all major capital discretionary funding during the time required to resolve the Celgar non-payment of taxes.”
Councillor and committee member Kevin Chernoff pointed out that, while all of council will participate in coping with the aftermath of Celgar’s actions, the committee will allow for faster, more responsive decisions than if a full council meeting had to be scheduled every time a new wrinkle in the situation arose.
Councillor and committee member Russ Hearne agreed, adding the financial impact of the shortfall is complex and deserving of this level of specific attention.
“Yes, we do have healthy reserves,” he explained. “But we don’t know how long it will take to get this resolved – it could drag on for years – so we need to do what any household would do and cut some of our unnecessary expenses.”