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Mayors form united front against declining revenues

Historic BC Mayors' Caucus makes a believer of Whistler's mayor



There's some comfort, agreed Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, knowing that Whistler is not alone in its financial woes.

Even more comfort now knowing that B.C. mayors aren't willing to stand for it anymore, that they want a new partnership with the provincial and federal governments in the best interest of all communities. And they want the downloading of services at the municipal level to stop.

And so while she's hopeful after last week's BC Mayors' Caucus, a historic first time gathering of 86 mayors, Wilhelm-Morden couldn't help but express dismay from the comments of one provincial minister who claimed the mayors are using the caucus to look for an even bigger piece of the funding pie and for more ways to spend taxpayers' money.

"It's interesting that a government, a year out from an election, which from all accounts looks like it's going to be a close battle, isn't looking at the mayors as allies... or doesn't seem to be," said Wilhelm-Morden this week.

She is referring specifically to comments made by Ida Chong, minister of community, sport and cultural development, and reported in the Vancouver Sun while the caucus was taking place from May 16-18 in Penticton.

Chong is reported as saying since 2001 the B.C. Liberal government has provided $3 billion in additional funding to local governments, above what was provided through previous funding streams.

"When I take a long look at that kind of money and they still say they want a bigger share of the pie, it's a bit disconcerting," said Chong in the Sun. "It's interesting they're establishing this caucus and obviously looking to find more ways to spend taxpayers' money.

"If they believe they need to provide additional services that their citizens want — truly want — they have the ability to increase property taxes."

They were the comments heard around the caucus; Wilhelm-Morden added that a number of mayors were "quite offended" by them.

Despite that setback, the 86 mayors from across B.C. agreed to call for an immediate discussion with Premier Christy Clark and her cabinet to examine the state of B.C. communities, and look for a more efficient use of existing resources to address the challenges residents face.

There are other areas that need to be addressed including:

• Expanding the mandate of the Municipal Auditor General to include an examination of the financial impacts of downloading on local governments.

• Eliminating the ad hoc granting process in favour of one that is sustainable and accountable and allows for long term planning by local governments.

• If services are devolved to local governments, a sustainable revenue source for those services must be identified.

Wilhelm-Morden was a skeptic going into the meeting; now she's a believer.

"The theme (of the caucus) was to come up with a new deal with the province," explained Whistler's mayor.

"When I first saw the bit of information that was sent to us, I was skeptical because my perspective in recent years is municipalities have to focus on the cost side of the ledger rather than the revenue side of the ledger.

"But when we got into it and we started talking about what was labeled as 'mandate creep,' just how much has been downloaded onto the municipal level of government both by the province and the federal government without any funding sources, the list is quite outstanding."

The mayors plan to meet again before the Union of British Columbia Municipalities convention in September and then again next May.

"In the meantime the nine members of the steering committee will be attempting to meet with the provincial cabinet to start getting some of these initiatives underway," said Wilhelm-Morden.

"And when you get someone like Mayor Dianne Watts of Surrey angry," she laughed, "you can expect that change is going to happen."