Transferring some of that tax onto other classes caused hardship for many in our community, and brought no new revenue. It did ensure less reliance on Catalyst ensuring more stable and reliable tax income for the community. Certainly a big pill to swallow all at once, but given the highly competitive pulp and paper market, not nearly as bitter a pill as it would be if Catalyst were to collapse, taking jobs and spin off jobs as well as taxes with it. Council made what I believe was the only responsible decision. A fiscally responsible decision. At the end of the day, the decision to transfer and reconfigure taxes has made the Municipality fairer and more competitive in all tax classes, thus more likely to attract new business. Several new businesses have taken advantage of Council’s Tax Revitalization By-law and started or moved their businesses here. And, important to remember -- despite the uncomfortable transfer of tax responsibility, North Cowichan still has the 8th lowest taxes out of 22 communities on Vancouver Island, and it is the lowest of the 5 Catalyst communities. (Civic Info)
Past Council’s, shifted some taxes from Heavy Industry, but left us dependent on the mill for close to 30 % of our taxes. If we had continued with a more gradual shift when many other communities did, we could have avoided such a dramatic one. But, as already stated, no Council knows what future challenges they will face in their term; an increase in taxes, no matter how wise and responsible, is often met with reactive disapproval. I can empathize with how difficult it can be to make decisions causing immediate discomfort, even while knowing the long term remedy is more important.
As a long term resident, I and many of my neighbours benefited from the ‘tax holiday’ provided by Catalyst bearing so much of our tax burden for so long. Sadly, our newer NC homeowners faced a huge spike in their taxes without benefiting from that ‘holiday’. Interesting though, without fail on the campaign trail at the door, every new resident who came here from somewhere else is thrilled at how low are taxes are and how many 'wonderful' services they provide.
Property taxes are in many ways ‘regressive’; people with lower incomes generally pay a greater portion of their income on taxes. Few jurisdictions around the world rely as heavily on the property tax to fund local needs as does BC. Council needs to find alternative ways to augment our income to maintain services for the community. Local governments, through the Union of BC Municipalities, have been asking the Province for a wider and more progressive source of income for some time. Many good suggestions have been made, such as to assign part of the present sales tax directly to local government rather than to Provincial coffers. North Cowichan brought a motion to UBCM in 2012 lobbying for local governments to keep the property transfer tax collected every time a property changes hands. The Province disagreed. UBCM is still trying with its document, Strong Fiscal Futures, A Blueprint for Strengthening BC Local Governments' Financial System, which has some great ideas to address the issue of property taxes.
The Province can be induced to hear the will of its citizenry. Perhaps a citizen's group will take this on before the next Provincial election. I hope so. It doesn't seem cost effective to me to pay our staff our money to write grants to try and get more of our money. Tying some of our revenue to a specific source makes more sense.
In closing, the hard work has been done, transfers and adjustments made and our lesson hopefully learned. Present and future stability requires us to hold the course and that means we continue to invest now through moderate tax increases. (ideally closer to inflation) It is not the time to take another ‘tax vacation’. The last one proved to be very expensive in the end. Let’s not go backwards.