The City recently completed upgrades to Columbia Avenue, investing in its infrastructure to enhance its long-term health. (File photo)

High property taxes are the price of great service, says Rossland mayor

Analysis by city shows residential property tax rate among highest in province

A new report by the City of Rossland’s finance department shows the city’s tax burden on homeowners is among the highest in the province.

But the mayor says the numbers don’t tell the whole story.

“I like to say it’s the price we pay for the privilege of living in paradise,” says Mayor Kathy Moore.

The BC Assessments branch sent out new assessments to homes and businesses across the province earlier this month. In many areas, including Rossland, property assessments went up by as much as 18 per cent.

Related: West Kootenay property assessments show stable market

Local municipalities use the property assessments to set tax rates and pay for services.

The report, presented at council’s Jan. 7 meeting by finance officer Elma Hamming, shows that Rossland is among the 10 communities with the highest residential property tax rate in the province.

While several cities have average assessment values within 20 per cent of Rossland’s, the city’s property tax rate is highest in its comparable group, at $7.08 per $1,000 of assessment, organized by population size and industrial base.

“Rossland also has a high reliance on residential taxation which could account for its high residential tax rate, but it is evident that there are more cities with a high residential tax ratio who are able to keep the residential rate lower than Rossland with similar residential percentage of total tax collected ratios, such as Warfield, Montrose and Fruitvale,” the report says.

But Moore says those comparisons might not be fair.

“On some of these scales we look high compared to some, but you have to look at all the services we provide,” she says. “Some of these places with lower taxes, like Warfield… well, they don’t have an arena, or museum, or pool, and even the snow removal isn’t as big.

“You can’t have services without paying taxes, that’s the bottom line,” Moore adds. “We could reduce taxes dramatically if we closed the arena, closed the Miner’s Hall, closed the museum and stopped plowing snow, but I don’t think there’s anybody who would want us to do that.”

Other municipalities have big industrial or commercial taxpayers who contribute to revenue, while Rossland’s municipal government gets virtually all its money from residential homeowners.

“The big takeaway is it’s hard to compare us to anyone,” she says. “Municipalities collect tax revenue in many different ways. Some rely more on parcel taxes or user fees, others rely on their industrial taxpayer or big commercial sector.”

Rossland collects 88 per cent of its property tax revenue from the residential class, and the remainder from business (9 per cent) and utilities (3 per cent). That’s well above the provincial average of 62 per cent residential, the report notes.

But Moore says a better comparison might be to add all the fees, charges and taxes a city charges, and then see what services it provides. If that were done, she is confident Rossland’s civic government would compare favourably.

In other words, it’s just as expensive to live in other places, but they take your money in other ways.

Taken at another angle — use of money raised, compared by source — the report says the city does well.

“The provincial per capita rate was was $1,163 while Rossland billed out $1,289, which is 11 per cent above the provincial average,” the report adds.

“Here Rossland scores very well comparatively, as many other communities are collecting more revenue from the other classes while Rossland relies extensively on its residential class for revenue.”

Moore says the city has worked hard to give good value for its tax dollars.

“For all the responsibilities we do take on, we have a very lean staff,” she says. “We only have 35 employees total, doing everything from city hall functions to public works. And I think we are very efficient with that. There’s not a lot of slacking off there, and we provide good service.”

“We’re very mindful of taxes. We’re not trying to spend higgledy-piggledy and raise taxes. We understand people’s dollars are precious, but their services are precious too, and they’re not free.”

The report does offer some hope of relief for residential taxpayers.

Recent investments in city infrastructure, such as rebuilding Columbia Avenue and Washington Street, is money that won’t have to be spent in the future. Taxpayers are also close to finishing paying off debts for those projects, and in five years could see the tax burden drop on those by nearly 3.8 per cent.

But Moore admits it’s a hard message to get across.

“We hear people say, ‘Oh, taxes are so high in Rossland’,” she says. “But we don’t hear people say, ‘You know, let’s think for a minute what are my taxes providing me’.

“I think we’ve struck a good balance of providing good service and still maintaining an affordable community. Compared to so many other places in the province we are very affordable.”

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Rosslanders pay high taxes, but get good service for them, says the city’s mayor. (Photo by: Don Conway)

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