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City meeting with Chamber members implies tax hike for residents

Kyra Hoggan
By Kyra Hoggan
February 17th, 2010

A budget meeting between Castlegar city council and members of the local chamber of commerce last Thursday offered little new information in terms of hard numbers, but left many with the sense that residential tax rates will likely go up in the 2010 budget.

Councillor Kevin Chernoff said that’s not an unreasonable interpretation of the city’s current position.

“I think that’s fair to say,” he said, explaining the Celgar conflict has forced the city to re-evaluate its taxation policy, which sees the highest commercial tax rate and the lowest residential tax rate of any community in the West Kootenay.

“That’s not to say that the business rate is not going to see an increase – but I don’t think it’ll be as much of an increase as it will be for residential.”

As councillor and chamber liason Russ Hearne explained, the city has three options: to make cuts, to increase taxes, or to implement a combination of both … and Chernoff said there’s a limit to how many cuts can realistically, and productively, be made.

“Everything’s being examined – do we need it; can we save money by reducing it – everything’s got to be weighed,” he said, adding public consultation meetings in the coming weeks will provide residents with scenarios on which they can offer input and suggetions before any final decisions are made.

Regardless the outcome, though, Hearne said consulting the business community was critical, as a main thrust of the city’s new taxation strategy includes economic diversification and growing the city’s overall tax base to reduce reliance on single operations like Celgar.

“I think the business community appreciated being consulted, and I recognize and agree with them that business taxes in Castlegar are high,” he said, adding he felt Thursday’s meeting at the Community Forum was positive. “It kind of reaffirmed that we (council) are thinking along the right lines in terms of expanding our tax base and encouraging development like we are with the airport lands.”

He said he understands residential tax payers may not feel so positive about the direction council is taking – but now is a time when hard decisions have to be made.

“The easy decision is to transfer the (tax) burden onto the business community, because they don’t get to vote … they have no voice,” he said. “Anyone can make the easy, popular decision – it’s harder to make the right decision, which is what we’re trying to do.”

Local businessman Chris Sykes, owner of Tim Horton’s, said he was surprised at the lack of hard numbers or new information offered at the meeting, but still felt the experience was a valuable one.

“I was very impressed,” he said. “I really appreciated that (council) invited businesses to hear what their perceived challenges are and what options are available to them.

“It was nice to see, from a business perspective, that they recognize (the disproportionate tax rates). I’m a residential tax payer here, as well, so I’ll be paying either way, but …”

Sykes underlined the disparity by pointing out his residentail mill rate is 2.99, while his business mill rate is 13.5.

“And the services I receive as a business are, I believe, quite a bit less than what I receive as a resident … I pay for snow removal, for garbage removal …” Sykes said.

He said he thinks the purpose of the meeting, rather than imparting new information or digging heavily into specific numbers, may have been to simply ensure the business communtiy understands the importance of commercial participation in this process, as well as the challenges and options before council as the process progresses.

“I hope we’ll see better business attendance in this budget process than we have in the past,” Sykes said. “All too often, businesses are silent when it comes to issues of taxation. They don’t have a vote, and quite often, they don’t want to be seen by their customer base as pushing for higher residential taxes.

“But the city has asked for our input on this, and I think they deserve it.”

He said, in fact, that he hopes all stakeholders, business and residential alike, truly engage in the 2010 budget process for the City of Castlegar, offering council the help, input and support it requires to make the difficult decisions required this fiscal year.

A schedule of public budget meetings is expected to come within the next week or so.

Categories: General

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