This is a defining moment for this Council, -- will we do our part to set the table for business (here jobs) for the next four years? Do we recognize that this decision will affect business in North Cowichan, for years. What is the message we want to send to business, both existing and potential?
I’ve heard the phrase ‘open for business’ bandied about since I first took a seat at this table Initiatives such as the Tax Revitalization by-law, the Climate Action and Energy Plan, the OCP and UCB with three local area plans are all part of a strong foundation for attraction and retention of business here. Will we capitalize on them and all the work and money that has gone into them by letting our able staff enact them?
But It’s rough out there. Economist Guy Standing, talks about an increasing number of people he dubs the “precariat’ The ‘precariat’ -- a growing portion of citizens who are becoming habituated to facing precarious personal and job security. He goes so far as to call for a new charter of rights that reflects a rapidly changing economic reality.
Unpaid interns, contract workers and temp employees, often can’t name their occupation because it changes so often. They spend an increasing amount of time for which they are not paid. ( for example - job training, travel time, job applications). The precariat find themselves more educated and qualified than needed for the jobs they can get. For the first time in modern history an emerging group of citizens are losing rights. There are benefit cuts, part time and seasonal employment and no due process creating tremendous amounts of injustice and further increasing the disparity between the rich and the poor.
Here we sit around this table - in the first year of a four year term -- a budget that is all about messaging. Who is this new Council and what do we stand for? What is the message we want to send? And what is the message we are sending?
What are the optics of option 2 ? -- if you are an existing business in NC, we will reward you for your ongoing investment in our community by asking you to carry an even greater percentage of the costs of running our municipality than you have been, a greater increase than the people you employ or who you are trying to cultivate as customers. Then, ironically, if you want to start a new business here, we might be able to give you a 10 year municipal tax holiday. (if you meet the criteria) Why would we penalize the people who have been loyal investors and supporters of our community AND ask them to subsidize their potential competition. Sub text? Dear loyal and existing investors, please happily accept the fact that we are imposing a punitive tax increase on you though you have employed our citizens over the last 7 tumultuous years. Just be good sports and ‘suck it up’ -- and don’t feel at all concerned that we are trying to attract new business by offering up to 10 year tax breaks. We’re sure you’ll do fine...
Honestly if this is what is decided here tonight and I was a property taxpayer in a business class, I would think long and hard about what this Council might do to my tax rates, not just this year, but over its term. And about how that will affect my bottom line over time. The tone this idea sets is not in my limited scope of understanding, in any way a message that say’s ‘business friendly’...
In budget 2015 - Staff, under Council’s direction found efficiencies that set the tax increase across the board at 2.89 %. Council raised that number with supplemental and grants in aid -- ending up at 3.22%.
I am not sure why individual people chose to send an artificial message about what the true cost of running the municipality under our current policies is -- perhaps the reason was unique to each one who did so. But as the two Chambers in our jurisdiction have said, they don’t appreciate adding more of that burden onto our business, heavy industry and farming communities, when they are already doing so much to support our citizens in so many ways.
For three decades, every PAC I belonged to got free merchandise from these businesses to support our schools and I know many other organizations have done the same.
To me, voting for option 2 would be a grave mistake with larger, long term ramifications, I for one can’t be a part of. A mistake that we would be wise to rectify and hope that the mere flirtation with this idea is seen as a newly formed Council finding its legs, learning the ropes, coming to their senses, seeing it as going in the wrong direction and sending out a better message.
Again, ironically the CVRD workshop on ED is meant to address our role as community leaders in economic development, including retention, expansion and attraction of businesses.
Stable, predictable tax distribution and stable predictable tax increases is a large part of that.
In 2012, Council of the day did the heavy lifting (read shifting) - making us more competitive and secure going forward by restructuring the tax distribution system.
Council is a continuous entity -- of course policies do change over time -- however thoughtful, forward thinking plans that took into account huge feedback and input from the community should be given the time needed to bear fruit.
A change in direction like this requires a more rigorous analysis than a mere shotgun approach which frankly appears to be more political in nature than anything else.
We are sitting in these chairs to make the tough decisions, the right decisions with a long term view for the health of our municipality. We are not privy to more information than the public who put us here we have certainly spent more time gathering that information in it’s complete form and looking at the big picture than the vast majority of those folks.
We know to be competitive, light industry needs to be adjusted down over time, and as soon as our economy improves that would be a staff priority.
With the $ 20 savings in garbage tipping fees this year, the municipal increase to the average house is less than $ 4 a month for option 1. Is it really worth it to shave off less than 30 cents a month and risk making it harder for small businesses to stay viable and keep providing employment? This seems to be to be one of the most shortsighted decisions we could make.
Please, let’s send the message that we are a business friendly community, to our existing businesses as well as those we are trying to attract. Let’s work together with our community to address the tough times we are facing as local government.
I would much rather engage the community around my concern that for every dollar in total taxes we pay in Canada, local government gets a mere 8 cents yet we are increasingly asked to do more and more with it. (we are responsible for maintaining 60% of the infrastructure in the country for instance)
Senior governments continue to devolve themselves of traditional responsibilities, leaving them to local government-- and under the current financial system -- to property owners. This is one of the main reasons for tax increases. The Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) “ Strong Fiscal Futures” outlines ways to make the local tax system in BC more equitable for all concerned by reducing reliance on property taxes. I hope we can work to engage and encourage our citizens to lobby the government to work with UBCM to that end.
Just like mine and yours, the municipality’s expenses have gone up -- no surprise -- everything is going up. Yet all these things considered, last year the average homeowner paid $1,369 in general municipal taxes (excluding sewer and water) for municipal services. When I think about all the services provided by the municipality it seems we are getting good value for $114 per month which is less than some people pay for internet and television services.
In the end it is unsustainable to 'download' to our kids and grandkids the true costs to our society by leaving our property taxes artificially low. This simply transfers the problem of the infrastructure deficit to our kids.
I am grateful that our ‘stalemate’ as it is being called, allows us to give this decision sober second thought. The problems and issues belong to us all as a community. Let's work together with our citizens to create a community that is fair and equitable to all. Together we can.
Both local Chambers of Commerce representing over 500 businesses wrote letters asking Council to chose option 1 and distribute the tax equally across all classes. Council chose option 2 - to raise homeowner's taxes by 2.98% - and all other classes by 4.7% -- As an aside, it becomes confusing to homeowners because the amount of tax you pay includes school tax, hospital tax and CVRD taxes, which NC Council does not set (though we have a voice at the CVRD table) There was a last minute attempt to reverse this decision on May 6. Reps from both Chambers and several businesses attended Council to plea for option 1, to no avail.
Have a wonderful day in the sun this weekend. And Happy Mother's Day to my fellow moms.