Jordan Bateman: Less spending, more saving needed at city halls

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      At a time when many B.C. taxpayers are struggling under the weight of their heavy tax burden, growing personal debt, and an incredibly high cost of living, our locally elected officials are there to remind us all of how hopelessly out of touch they are.

      Yes, B.C.’s municipal and regional politicians are gathering for their annual, five-day Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) conference in Victoria later this month and, as usual, the thrust seems to be spending taxpayer money, not finding ways to save it.

      Truthfully, the point of the UBCM gabfest is three-fold: for elected officials to party it up in fancy hospitality suites, for cities to demand more money from provincial cabinet ministers, and for the local politicians to pass some policy resolutions.

      This year’s resolutions are light on ideas to save taxpayers money—but not on ways to claw more dollars out of people’s pockets. Duncan wants a cut of future marijuana taxes for cities. Sun Peaks wants an AirBnB tax. Williams Lake wants higher bylaw infraction fines. Penticton wants to tax vacant land at a higher rate than its zoning allows, while Terrace wants to do the same with brownfields. Langley City wants to split residential taxation into two classes, so they can charge townhouse and condo owners more.

      There are also dozens of motions that show councils still haven’t learned there’s only one taxpayer. West Kelowna wants the Christy Clark government to waive the provincial sales tax on infrastructure projects. Sure, the city would save a few bucks, but taxpayers would be no further ahead, as the provincial treasury would be out that revenue. Someone always pays—the taxpayer.

      In that same vein, Harrison Hot Springs wants infrastructure projects funded 50 percent by the federal government, 40 percent by the provincial government, and 10 percent by municipalities—moving seven percentage points from the city’s share to the province. But whatever level of government the money comes from, it’s still out of taxpayers’ pockets.

      Several corporate welfare programs are pitched – Lake Cowichan wants government to pay private business owners to improve their storefronts. Columbia Shuswap wants a tax credit for people who invest in rural businesses, while Alberni-Clayoquot wants government to pay for farms to harvest rainwater.

      Those wanting more bureaucracy will find many friends at UBCM. Cowichan Valley wants to ban plastic shopping bags, while Pitt Meadows is pushing a registry for dangerous dogs. Squamish wants the government to start a North Vancouver-Prince George passenger rail service. North Vancouver City is hoping the province will run a cigarette butt deposit-return program. Powell River wants to set up its own solar power operation.

      Bizarrely, North Saanich, located a mere 16-hour drive (plus a ferry ride away) from the Site C dam, wants the project halted and reviewed. None of the cities near Site C submitted such a resolution.

      View Royal deserves praise for offering one of the few cost-saving suggestions: calling on the federal government to reinstate the RCMP’s auxiliary officer program, which saved taxpayers money by allowing lower-paid auxiliaries to handle basic policing tasks such as crowd and traffic control. Penticton is also trying to control firefighter contracts costs by having arbitrators take into account local conditions, a good idea.

      But these cost-saving measures are few and far between at local government’s annual party on the taxpayers' dime.