West Vancouver-Garibaldi MLA Ted Nebbeling, minister of state for Community Charter, recently discussed the Community Charter, the Liberal governments proposed legislation to replace the Local Government Act, with Pique editor Bob Barnett.
Pique: You recently had a symposium with municipal officials from across the province regarding the Community Charter. How did it go?
Ted Nebbeling: It was organized by the UBCM (Union of B.C. Municipalities). It was at the Vancouver convention centre because we knew we were going to get a big crowd. It was 600-700 representatives from across the province, elected officials, staff, administrators and so on.
I was really pleased to see how positively local governments have reacted to the Community Charter draft. For a long time people have been waiting, asking what is it going to do for us. Now that they have the draft in hand, have read it, analyzed it, they can clearly see that this is a new foundation of how local and provincial governments will work together in the future.
Pique: And what is it municipalities are looking to do with it? Theres lots of talk about municipalities being given new means of generating revenue.
TN : One of the things is that, today it is a property tax base and we collect the cost of running a municipality through that. We collect portions of the school funding through property tax as well. So property tax has become an incredibly burdened entity and were trying to find new ways to create new revenues for local governments, to reduce that pressure on property taxes. Were looking in particular at user fees. So it is not all new taxes but user fees. So people who use a service or use a product pay a little bit more and people who dont use that product dont pay anything at all.
So we have not put any final tax package in the community charter. What we have done is created a white paper and that white paper is used to stimulate discussion.
Now Whistler, for example, has for a long time asked for a resort tax, and the emotions I think in the community are mixed about it. Some are saying thats a great idea because if we can get a dollar from every visitor going to the municipality, that will reduce the pressure on property taxes considerably. Others are saying well, you know we are expensive enough and if we add more to it
The problem is as a municipality, they pay bills. They pay for the infrastructure, including a sewer and water treatment plant. And if we feel that you shouldnt get the users, that includes all the visitors, to make a small contribution toward that cost, then at the end of the day you have to go back to your traditional base, which is property taxes.