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Municipalities seek more funding options

Financial tools, resort development major issues at UBCM

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It was the first Union of B.C. Municipalities annual general meeting since the province replaced the Municipal Act with the Community Charter, and likely the last UBCM meeting before the next provincial election.

As a result it was a politically charged meeting, with municipalities flexing the new muscles they have been given and the province announcing new funding for tourism, while pointing to the economic successes of its policies. It all came down to money, with municipalities asking for a bigger piece of the pie, and the premier making an argument for getting the province’s financial house in order first, while increasing money for northern development and tourism.

"When the Charter came down, they (the provincial government) said we’re going to give you more responsibilities, but we’re going to give you the tools, the financial tools to make it happen. Well they did a good job downloading responsibilities but didn’t quite follow up with the financial part," said Whistler Mayor Hugh O’Reilly, who attended last month’s UBCM along with several members of council.

"They don’t want to give up a nickel. And I know (the provincial government) is stuck on the other end, trying to balance their own budgets. They don’t have the money to give it away to the municipalities.

"We’ve seen three or four years of belt tightening, and now the budget is balanced and we’re going to see a surplus, we’re going to see better times. I think that was a strategy they had, that it was going to be tough for a couple of years, but to use the time to get things going their way and then move ahead. It’s good news because we’re finally seeing some money… but it’s interesting to see how the electorate perceives it in an election year."

O’Reilly says other communities at the UBCM and FCM (Federation of Canadian Municipalities) are following in Whistler’s footsteps this year by asking the province and the federal government for new financial tools to help cover their rising costs, either through taxes or other economic initiatives.

Resort communities have higher costs due to the number of visitors using public services, says O’Reilly. Despite the amount of revenue it generates for the province, Whistler’s main source of income to pay for those services is property taxes, although new private-public partnerships, permits, fees, development cost charges, fines and a percentage of the hotel room tax do make a contribution to municipal coffers.

"It’s really interesting, but the New Deal, as they (the federal government) are calling it, is really very similar to some of the arguments we’ve made for funding tools that we’ve been making to the provincial government, that are specific to resort communities. It’s interesting to see it taken up by other communities across Canada that are just traditional communities as well…. We’re delivering so much service we need to partake in some of the other economic activities going on in our jurisdictions," said O’Reilly.

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