WE LIVE in one of the most beautiful places in the world and there is an extra cost attached to it. But as the district drafts its new budget and plays with tax increase figures, I can’t help but think that living in paradise is going to get more painful. In the last few years, our taxes have gone up in a way that is unsustainable and will force more people out of town, resulting in a diminished tax base for the district.
Just look back at the past headlines and you will see how residential tax-payers have had to increasingly shoulder the tax burden. In 2013, district officials were debating an increase of 12.2 per cent, which was reduced to 10.2 per cent after concerned residents decried the massive tax hike. And, as many business owners will recall, the residential tax hike was accompanied by another increase of 15 per cent in utilities and 10.4 per cent in business taxes. Over the years, as major and light industry collapsed, the district has slowly shifted the burden towards home owners for taxation. In2000, residential taxes accounted for 48.6 per cent of the tax revenue while major industry contributed 28.52 per cent, but only 10 years later, residential taxes were sharing 59.2 per cent of the burden, while major industry brought in only 2.10 per cent.
So, how do we balance our need for revenues for our infrastructure with respect for the tax payer’s wallet? I don’t think increasing taxes for small businesses or houses is a viable idea. I think the answer lies within the District of Squamish’s ability to spur business development or cut back on costs rather than tax home owners or small businesses. What’s actually going on to attract new business to Squamish and what is this office doing to ensure we increase our business base to reduce burden on residential taxes? The DOS could learn a lot from Penticton’s economic incentives for new business and revitalization of their downtown core, which they have detailed very clearly on their website. Squamish does seem to have a similar revitalisation program but information about it is neither prominently displayed on the district website and nor is there information on how it has spurred our local economy.
The DOS also needs to seriously examine and reduce their spending on various consultants and studies and reduce the increasing number of municipal workers. Compared to Penticton with a population of 33,000 which has only 178 municipal workers, Squamish with only 17,000 residents employs close to 150 municipal employees. I’d also urge the district to look at The Beggars Checklist—A To Do List For Canadian Municipalities that goes into detail on how we can be cost-effective and save tax-payers money rather than just increasing taxes over and over again.
There are several relevant questions in this checklist that we can use to foster economic development and help tax-payers save money: Are we bringing salaries in line with the private sector? Are we selling surplus land and assets to generate revenue? Are we building partnerships with other government agencies and non-profits to make service delivery easier and affordable? Are we utilizing technology to reduce costs?
I don’t think we need to increase taxes but make smart choices at the local government level that save us enough to pay for services without reaching ever deeper into people’s wallets.