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City/Celgar agree on need for provincial intervention

Kyra Hoggan
By Kyra Hoggan
December 16th, 2009

Photo: Castlegar mayor Lawrence Chernoff.

Castlegar Mayor Lawrence Chernoff said a provincial announcement that no monetary help will be forthcoming for cities with unpaid major-industry-tax bills is no problem – the city will get what it wants from the province anyway.

The province’s statement came Sunday when finance minister Colin Hansen told the Globe and Mail he wouldn’t be offering short-term financial relief to cities like Castlegar, in which the primary rate payer, Celgar, declined to pay $3.2 million in municipal taxes, filing suit in B.C. Supreme Court to challenge the city’s tax rates instead.

Hansen said that would essentially amount to B.C. taxpayers subsidizing low residential taxes in the afflicted communities, which wouldn’t be fair.
Chernoff responded that Castlegar never asked for money in the first place.

“There never was any money on the table,” he said. “ We know there’s no money in the coffers, and that isn’t what we’re asking for.

“What we’re really looking for is a long term solution to the major industry taxation model, and the government will have to get involved with that, because it’s a province-wide issue. It has to be done – there’s no other choice here.”

He pointed out that Castlegar isn’t the only community asking the province to step in and help with the creation of a new model – that, in fact, the Union of B.C. Municipalities, at its annual convention this summer, threw its unanimous support behind a resolution asking the province to address this very issue.
 

In this instance, Celgar officials are in complete accord with the city, according to mill manager Al Hitzroth.

“We’ve (spoken to) different provincial ministers in terms of the issues we’re facing, and the city has, too,” Hitzroth said, adding that so far, the province seems to be taking a hands-off, wait-and-see approach, and he hopes that stance will change.

“No matter what, we need to see the engagement of the provincial government.”

Chernoff said he couldn’t agree more.

“The province has to be a player, there’s just no doubt about it,” he said. “I don’t think they’re going to jump in with both feet, because the implications here are absolutely humungous (so any action the province takes has to be cautious) – but I think they clearly understand it’s a huge issue, and a provincial issue.”
 

For more on Celgar’s reaction to its ongoing dispute with the city, see Celgar Speaks: the other side of a contentious taxation coin.

Categories: General

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