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RDCK: How many wrongs do you think it takes to make a right?

Kyra Hoggan
By Kyra Hoggan
September 9th, 2009

Every time I think the political system has bottomed out, and cannot possibly disappoint me more than it already has, some new, unprecedented low proves me wrong.

For those of you following the issue between the City of Castlegar and the Regional District of Central Kootenay (RDCK) over the $375,000 regional requisition, be prepared for more ugliness.

I’m not sure the city was correct in refusing to pay the requisition, despite Celgar’s failure to pay its municipal taxes – the city is better positioned to absorb the loss, for starters.

There’s also the fact that the $375,000 goes toward services the city wants to keep in place (namely, recreation), and commitments have been made based on the expectation of those funds.

The city makes a compelling argument in saying they merely collect the taxes and remit them to the RDCK and, since Celgar didn’t pay, there’s nothing to remit – but I’m not sure I’m buying that argument.

If you’ll bear with me for a little background, I think the current collection system was designed the way it was so the city would absorb the loss when smaller taxpayers didn’t ante up, instead of the various levels of government nickel-and-diming each other to the point where administrative costs would likely overshadow any tax income. It’s not uncommon for cities and regional districts to engage in these sorts of petty power struggles, so the province created a system to avoid such squabbles every time a resident came up short on his tax bill. I think the city is correct in its contention that the current system does not anticipate a taxpayer representing more than 40 per cent of a municipality’s total tax base just deciding not to bother paying its bill.

But, like it or not, that IS the current system, and I think the city should’ve worked within it, lobbying the province to see the system changed rather than declining to pay the regional requisition.

What I really wish now, though, is that someone had told the RDCK that the city doing something wrong is not justification for commiting a far, far more eggregious offense against a group of innocent bystanders who have done nothing wrong at all … unless the directors feel somehow personally wounded by the years of loyal dedication and service offered by Complex recreation staff.

By all accounts, there was enough money in the recreation commission reserves to cover the shortfall.

Instead, the RDCK board passed a motion, eight-to-seven, to have a letter sent to Complex staff advising them of possible cuts to hours and/or staff. They also discussed ways to cut services to save cash – and never even flirted with the possibility of using the reserves. Castlegar mayor Lawrence Chernoff was sitting right at the table, and he tells me the reserve money was never so much as considered as an option.

It’s better, I guess, in the minds of RDCK directors, to reward hard-working, innocent staffers by threatening their jobs just as the school year begins anew and the Christmas season begins to loom large. Certainly, it’s a great service to the taxpayers – it’ll make jobs at the Complex so very desirable when the general perception is that those jobs are not secure. Surely we’ll attract the cream of the crop to work for our community that way. Oh, and let’s not forget the threat to mess with hockey schedules, swim meets, and God knows what other services the directors’ constituents (and their children) have come to rely on.

I can’t know what was in the hearts and minds of those directors when they passed that motion – but I’d bet every last penny in my bank account that no one in that room was unaware of the political backlash service cuts and lay-offs would inspire. And I’d also bet more than one of them knew this was a politically expedient way to force the city’s hand, to strong-arm the city into paying the bill.

And you know what the truly heart-breaking part is?

The RDCK was going to get what they wanted anyway.

It had already become public knowledge (I ought to know, since I wrote and published the story), that the provincial ministry was going to send a letter to the city indicating they had to pay to the bill, and the mayor and one councillor had already stated outright, and in no uncertain terms, that if such a letter was to arrive, they’d vote in favour of paying.

So the threat to Complex staff and Complex patrons wasn’t so the RDCK could get their way .. it was so the RDCK could get their way RIGHT NOW.

How repugnant is that?

Of course, in the face of these threats, city council voted last night to pay the bill – they, at least, were unwilling to see rec staff and their families live in fear because of a political power play…and rightly so.

The RDCK made their threats and got what they wanted – but now, the question is this: at what cost? Did the end really justify the means?

They would’ve got the money either way, as the provincial ministry had already sided with them. Now, they’ll get it quicker – and they’ve taught all of us a lesson in how our little world works.

No co-operation, no good faith, no community-to-community neighbourly support.

The meanest guy wins – that’s what my son will understand from this. Look out for Number One, and all that vile schlock.

They’ve taught Complex staff that their jobs are secure – until the second the RDCK sees the potential for political leverage in using them as pawns. They’re feeling very valued right now, I’m sure. If I worked there, my resume would be circulating as we speak, regardless how this latest tug-of-war is resolved.

They’ve done irreparable damage to any hope of a cooperative relationship with the city, making distrust the only shared currency between the two.

Worst of all, though, they’ve dealt another body blow to our collective faith in the system.

They’ve proven the most selfish, vicious tactics will forever win the day, and the good guy will always finish last.

I thought our elected representatives were supposed to be the good guys.

So here’s my final question to the RDCK: You got what you wanted, and you got it right now.

Was it worth it?

Categories: Op/Ed

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