Opinion » Editorial


Municipal Act updates not coming fast enough On Tuesday of this week Municipal Affairs Minister Jenny Kwan introduced legislation to update parts of the Municipal Act. Today, July 2, taxes are due. There is a connection, but it may be several years before its evident. The changes introduced by Kwan are not earth shattering; they have to do with municipal campaign financing, regulating and licensing businesses, giving municipalities the authority to operate services, the authority to impose parcel taxes, fees and charges, and the authority to establish an alternative tax collection scheme, whereby taxes could be paid monthly, rather than on July 2. The legislation is part of a multi-year plan, begun last year, to bring the Municipal Act up to date. But the changes in the first two years of the plan are far more modest than the principles established by the province as a framework for changes to the Act. The nine principles include: o Broad powers: "Local government legislation should replace specific, narrow local government authority with greater local government authority to do business in new, innovative and more effective ways." o Flexibility: "Local government legislation should enable local governments to respond practically to specific local needs and circumstances, including obtaining additional or customized powers where/when needed." o Matching resources to responsibilities: "Local government legislation should enable local governments to obtain the financial resources they need to meet the responsibilities and provide the level of service expected of them." There is no question that the Resort Municipality of Whistler would welcome legislation which would bring these principles into effect. The municipality has been working on its own proposal for tax reform, which would shift some of the emphasis from property values to some sort of tax on resort visitors, since council and staff toured Colorado resorts in 1997 and saw how they operate. The proposal, which may still be some ways off, would seem to fit with the province’s declared principles for modernizing the Municipal Act. The question is, can the province bring about substantial changes to the Municipal Act quickly enough to allow municipalities to develop the tools to cope with the costs which have been and continue to be downloaded on them by the same provincial government? The downloading ranges from the obvious, such as reductions in transfer payments and cost sharing programs, to the more insidious, such as the pending Workers’ Compensation Board regulations designed to ensure employees work in a smoke-free environment. In the case of the latter, the province is introducing legislation which may be well intentioned, but it is charging municipalities with the responsibility of enforcing the law. At the moment the only recourse municipalities have to pay for this type of additional expense is to increase property taxes. What municipalities really want in the way of reforms to the Municipal Act is more flexibility and authority to look after their own financial affairs. For Whistler, with its self-imposed ceiling on development, there is a corresponding ceiling on fees and charges the municipality collects from development. Whistler has done well by these fees but they will run out. For this reason, and because the ceiling on development will eventually push property values through the roof, there is perhaps more urgency in Whistler to see real reform of the Municipal Act than in most municipalities.

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