B.C. cities counter business tax critics

UBCM warns of tough choices to lower corporate property tax rates

UBCM president Barbara Steele

UBCM president Barbara Steele

B.C. cities are fighting back against years of repeated attacks from business lobby groups over municipal spending and taxation policies.

They’ve released their own analysis that concludes small business demands for lower tax rates would shift more of the tax burden to residential payers, resulting in a 14.5 per cent property tax hike for the average B.C. home, or an extra $230 per year.

The report by the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) counters a series of papers by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), rejecting claims of out-of-control civic spending.

“Municipalities are investing more in the areas that matter most to our communities,” said UBCM president Barbara Steele, a Surrey councillor. “Our operations are becoming more efficient.”

Spending is up primarily because of escalating police and firefighting costs and growing demand for recreational services, the report says, not from general government overhead.

It also notes federal and provincial governments are imposing higher costs on local taxpayers – through more onerous requirements to cut greenhouse gases, improve drinking water quality and clean up sewage discharges – often without enough accompanying financial aid.

Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore, vice-president of the UBCM, said general government costs have on average declined over 20 years.

He rejected claims businesses don’t have enough say, noting three-quarters of mayors come from the private sector.

“There is excellent representation from local business,” he said.

The CFIB argued civic spending has grown twice as fast as the population and inflation combined.

It wants the province to force cities to cap business tax rates at no more than twice the rate residents pay, amounting to a significant cut in most cities.

Capping business rates at that ratio would “would lead to revenue shortfalls in almost every city, town and village,” the UBCM report warns.

CFIB vice-president Laura Jones said her organization has never argued for making up the difference by raising residential tax rates, adding cities should instead cut spending.

“They’re being a little bit intellectually dishonest in the way they’re positioning the study,” she said. “I think it’s a strategy to deflect attention away from the overspending thats’s going on.”

Jones did not name specific civic services to cut.

“I would look at wages and benefits of staff,” she said.

Total municipal compensation is 30 per cent above comparable pay levels in the private sector, Jones said, adding civic wages and benefits should be frozen until they get within five per cent of the private sector.

The UBCM study warns councils not to take such advice seriously, noting contracts are negotiated and can’t be arbitrarily imposed.

It also cautions that some critics who seek to cut non-core services define them as anything that can be delivered by private firms.

The report said that could apply to parts or all of recreation, transit, economic development, arts and culture, housing, garbage collection and perhaps other local services.

Some services like parks and recreation, where cities face growing demands, generate hard-to-quantify social dividends by keeping seniors and youth active, healthy and engaged, the report said.

Gregory Thomas, B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said residential tax hikes to cover business cuts would be a “nightmare scenario” but argued cities can take a firm line in upcoming bargaining with their unions to cut costs.

“Public sector employees have been wildly successful at the bargaining table,” he said. “(Councils need to) spine up and take the employers’ side, take the taxpayers’ side in negotiations.”

Just Posted

Xauni de Figeuiroa of Abbotsford has been selected to attend a virtual space camp hosted by the Canadian Space Agency at the end of July.
Abbotsford student selected to attend virtual space camp

Xauni de Figeuiroa among 52 youth selected from across Canada

Kindergarten kids from Evans elementary school in Chilliwack painted rocks with orange hearts and delivered them to Sto:lo Elders Lodge recently after learning about residential schools. (Laura Bridge photo)
Kindergarten class paints rocks with orange hearts in Chilliwack for local elders

‘Compassion and empathy’ being shown by kids learning about residential schools

Chilliwack potter Cathy Terepocki (left) and Indigenous enhancement teachers Val Tosoff (striped top) and Christine Seymour (fuchsia coat), along with students at Vedder middle school, look at some of the 500-plus pinch pots on Thursday, June 10 made by the kids to honour the 215 children found at Kamloops Indian Residential School. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Chilliwack students make hundreds of tiny clay pots in honour of 215 Indigenous children

‘I think the healing process has begun,’ says teacher about Vedder middle school project

A program of the Fraser Valley Health Care Foundation enables patients to thank their health-care workers.
Fraser Valley program enables patients to say thanks to their health-care workers

Philip Harris Grateful Patient Program offered through health care foundation

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay
Webinar looks at sexual abuse prevention among adolescents

Vancouver/Fraser Valley CoSA hosts free online session on June 15

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Premier John Horgan speaks as provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, right, and health minister Adrian Dix look on during a press conference to update on the province’s fall pandemic preparedness plan during a press conference from the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. officials to provide details on Step 2 of COVID reopening plan Monday

Step 2 could allow for larger gatherings and a resumption of recreational travel

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

Most Read