British Columbia finance minister Michael de Jong speaks to the Vernon Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce Wednesday at the chamber.

British Columbia finance minister Michael de Jong speaks to the Vernon Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce Wednesday at the chamber.

Finance minister challenged over downloading

Vernon’s mayor went head-to-head with the provincial government Thursday.

Vernon’s mayor went head-to-head with the provincial government Wednesday.

During a Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Rob Sawatzky accused Finance Minister Michael de Jong of improving B.C.’s bottom line on the backs of municipalities through downloading of services.

“Local governments have to take it over,” he said.

“Local government doesn’t mind taking on those responsibilities provided we have the ability to generate the revenue to do it.”

Sawatzky says cities can only generate revenue through property taxes, whereas in some provinces and states, they get a cut of the sales tax.

“In many U.S. municipalities, they tax your car or boat.”

However, de Jong defended the government’s stance by saying that strong economies allow communities to provide services.

“When you say no to a development project, you are saying no to that (services),” he said.

De Jong also indicated that Victoria provides traffic fine revenue to municipalities.

De Jong was also urged to create a specific stream of money for cultural facilities, such as museums and art galleries.

“Right now, it gets watered down with other infrastructure and other provinces have that (separate) pocket of money,” said Dauna Kennedy Grant, Vernon Public Art Gallery executive director.

Kennedy Grant also told de Jong that cultural amenities create jobs and encourage people to invest in communities.

Another topic that was raised was the multiple-governance structure currently in Greater Vernon.

“It’s become a challenge for businesses to get permits and authorizations,” said lawyer Ian Hawes, who says a single governance model would reduce red tape.

De Jong says he supports a citizen-based petition that is trying to determine if there is broad support for amalgamation.

“The idea of taking a local pulse is really important. It’s tough for another level of government to impose a solution,” he said.

“I hope you give Eric (MLA Eric Foster) the ability to come to us with some kind of direction.”

De Jong was in Vernon as part of his 2014 budget consultation process and what to do with a projected $136 million surplus.

“How do we spend it? Schools would like more money. Health authorities would like more money,” he said.