Steve Thorlakson: It’s tax time again! Four things you'll hear from city hall

stevethorlakson

No, this isn’t about federal or provincial taxes, but municipal. Budgets for regional districts must be adopted by March 31, 2019 (yes, city residents pay them too!), and city budgets must be adopted by May 15, 2019. In fact, the city is having an open forum on the budget February 11, at 6 p.m. at city hall.

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There are some standard things you may hear, such as:

1) "We don’t control assessments." That’s true, but the elected officials do control dollars of tax

2) "People don’t want service cuts." True. But when services were expanded, were the citizens asked – not just a dozen interested people, but really asked? Maybe there should be a policy of no new services without a plebiscite? Policy developed based upon complaints rather than comprehensive research isn’t policy at all – it’s kneejerk reactionism, not leadership.

3) "We’re just adjusting for inflation." A cop out – Jimmy Carter in the U.S. had “zero-base budgeting” in the mid 1970s. The previous year’s budget was assumed to be OK, all that was debated were increases. Anyone aside from me recall 12% inflation and 20% interest rates?

4) "We’re holding the line on tax rates." A deflection worthy of Trump. Council controls how much you pay in city taxes. From 1990 to 2005, council reduced the tax rate by the amount assessments increased in 13 of those 15 years. The only new property tax revenue was from new construction. This required many tough choices and priorities, but that’s what a council gets elected for.

Back in the 1990s, the province adopted a policy to reduce the school tax rate by the average increase of assessments. For many years, school tax rates and city general rates were very similar – city general rates are now about double the school tax rates.

City water and sewer billing rates have tripled over recent years. The average citizen cannot figure out the details of these items, but the mayor and council members we elect must ask the tough questions and get the straight answers – and then communicate those questions and answers to the citizens. They are our board of directors and we are the shareholders – we must hold them accountable.

It’s your tax dollars – and you need to be sure you are getting value for money.

Inform yourself, show up at the council budget session on February 11. If you don’t do it, who will?

Steve Thorlakson is a former mayor and resident of Fort St. John.

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