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Increased taxation powers for municipalities coming



Community charter to be part of spring legislature session

The Liberal government took the first steps towards its promised community charter this week, however, it will be next year before the charter becomes law and municipalities gain new taxing authority.

Minister of State for Community Charter Ted Nebbeling announced Monday an 11-member council is being formed to review the charter, which will replace the Local Government Act. The council will make recommendations prior to the Community Charter Council Act being passed next year in the spring session of the legislature.

Among the changes the Liberals have promised through the community charter is giving local governments increased powers of taxation.

"Individual communities can look at individual opportunities in their community to see how they can create other revenue sources," Nebbeling, the MLA for West Vancouver-Garibaldi, told the Vancouver Sun this week. He suggested communities with resorts could look at such things as adding a resort tax or a tax on lift tickets.

Whistler first asked the provincial government for a resort tax in 1987, on the grounds that the resort couldn’t be supported – to the quality visitors expected – solely on municipal property taxes. The province didn’t accept the idea that a tax on everything sold in Whistler was fair when revenue was only needed to pay for resort amenities. Instead, Bill Vander Zalm, Municipal Affairs minister at the time, suggested the 2 per cent hotel tax, which is still in place.

The Resort Municipality of Whistler has been waiting anxiously for the Liberal community charter and new means of raising revenue. Mayor Hugh O’Reilly has spoken often in recent months of the need for new "financial tools" to help pay for resort infrastructure.

Property taxes, which along with fees and service charges are the municipality’s only sources of revenue, have increased steadily in recent years. At the same time, transfer payments from the provincial government to all municipalities have been cut and many new costs have been downloaded on to local governments.

"The community charter is a significant initiative designed to prohibit provincial government 'offloading' of costs onto local taxpayers, and give local governments greater autonomy and better planning tools to reduce pressure on property taxes," Nebbeling said in a release.

As well, the community charter will mean Crown corporations, such as B.C. Hydro and B.C. Rail, will have to pay property taxes in municipalities where they own land. Previously Crown corporations provided municipalities grants in lieu of taxes, but the amount of the payment was left to the provincial government and there was no fixed date for the payments, which created hardship for some municipalities.

In an interview last year Nebbeling told Pique Newsmagazine the community charter would also make Crown corporations, and all other arms of the provincial government, subject to municipal governments’ rules and regulations. That would mean, for instance, that the B.C. Ferry Corporation would not have been allowed to expand the Horseshoe Bay terminal if expansion contravened the Municipality of West Vancouver’s bylaws.

The introduction of the Community Charter Council Act this week provides for the appointment of 11 members to the Community Charter Council. In addition to Nebbeling, four members will come from the Union of British Columbia Municipalities, three will be appointed by cabinet and four will be appointed by cabinet on the advice of the UBCM.

"We want to ensure proper review of these changes by providing for full input from the local governments that will be affected," Nebbeling said. "Local governments want to be part of this process. The Community Charter Council will facilitate review and input and hold government accountable for passage of legislation that meets local needs and priorities."

The council will review the charter over the next five months and submit its report by Jan. 15, 2002.

"What's encouraging, is that we're working on this process together, and we're making joint local-provincial management a reality," Jim Abram, UBCM president, said in a release. "We wanted time to work on this revolutionary legislation and the government respected that request."

The community charter has been part of the Liberal’s policy since 1995.

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