Meeting of mayors aims to tackle common concerns

Elected leaders will meet in Penticton to discuss cost downloading.

If there is one thing that can draw together municipal politicians of various ilk it is their dissatisfaction with upper levels of government.

Next week a contingent of Greater Trail politicians will be heading to Penticton to beat the downloading drum and strategize on how to stem its flow from the province as 86 B.C. mayors congregate for three-day caucus from May 16 to 18.

Mayors from Trail, Fruitvale, Rossland, Montrose and across B.C. will look to form a common front on issues that are threatening their ability to deliver core services, mainly downloading services and an inequitable sharing of costs.

It is around revenue sharing that the conversation will likely flow, said Bogs. The rising costs of senior government downloading that has been taking place in the last few years, and continues to take place, is hamstringing local government, he said.

“We are so dependent on property taxation now and are expected to do more and more and more with the eight per cent of the taxes collected. It is just impossible to carry out the kind of mandate we need to with the downloading that is taking place,” he said.

Cities, towns and regional districts are responsible for transportation, police and fire services, water, sewage and garbage, recreation and culture, land-use planning, public health and animal control.

But those local governments receive only eight per cent of the total public tax revenues, while the province receives 42 per cent and the federal government gets 50 per cent of taxes, according to a press release issued by the mayors.

As well, local governments own nearly two thirds of Canada’s core public infrastructure — and are tasked with the cost of maintaining it — yet do not receive a fair share of the monies needed to fulfill the mandate.

Rossland Mayor Greg Granstrom wondered how the system could be restructured to more fairly share the financial burdens between the levels of government.

“One of the reasons that the cities are bearing so much of the load is because of downloading,” he noted. “And smaller municipalities have issues that … are even more focused because of the size of the municipality, but the themes of the problems are common everywhere.”

Problems such as water. With the Village of Montrose now grappling with a water restriction due to a water main valve breakage late last week, Montrose Mayor Joe Danchuk said he would be looking for a small town budget answer to a big city problem.

“I was hoping to talk to other mayors and see what other kind of funding there is out there for our water issue,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of money to throw at this.”

The inaugural caucus is also being viewed as an end-around run on the larger, annual gathering of B.C. politicians: the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) convention. Bogs questioned the need for the caucus — that arose out of the last UBCM meeting — and wondered if the nature of the UBCM will be forced to change.

“I have been a proponent for a long time that our UBCM is just working too closely with the provincial government and is not really representing us in a forceful way on some of the major issues,” he said.

He applauded the mayors’ caucus move, and said if it leads to re-organization within the UBCM he would support the move.

In a press release issued by the caucus, it was noted that as other levels of government reduce services, more of the core social services are now falling to local governments to provide because there is no ability to download to another level of government.

However, the proportion of public revenues available to local governments has not changed significantly over the years, despite the increasing mandate and subsequent related costs.

So, in B.C.’s largest stand-alone gathering of mayors ever, the need for a new deal to create a streamlined partnership model between local, provincial and federal governments will be formulated.