I read in The Morning Star on Nov. 17 that the city manager, Will Pearce, is recommending, an annual budget increase of 6.8 per cent. I think this is a dreadful idea in that it will affect a number of city residents in an unfair manner.
As a third level of government municipalities are not allowed deficits and so must budget in a different way, than provincial/federal governments. Simplistically put, staff figure out what they need (want) to spend, and come up with a number that they advance to council. If council wishes they can pass, amend or reject the proposed budget.
The problem with this model is that council is open to lobbying by staff, powerful unions and federal agencies (RCMP). They frequently succumb to pressure for spending increases.
Inflation in B.C. is running at around 1.6 percent, a rate hike of 6.8 per cent would then translate into an increase of 5.2 per cent above the current cost of living. Given the fact that much of this proposed rate increase is to fund six additional RCMP positions, at approximately $172,000 each, this will not be a one time charge. The budget without the RCMP positions would still run about two per cent above the current cost of living. Over a 10-year period of time this would represent a real loss of over 20 per cent. For some residents this would be unsustainable.
Vernon derives its revenue both from property taxes, and other sources, in close to equal portions. The city, in the main, has direct control only over property taxes so the homeowner or renter will have to foot the entire bill. Those over 55 who have retired are entitled to defer their property taxes at very low rates of interest, until they sell, thus this is a tax that will not materially affect older homeowners in the here and now. It will however affect younger homeowners as well as all renters. Rents reflect housing values and can only rise. Vernon, is number 10 on B.C.’s un-affordability index.
Those homeowners under 55 are usually in the throes of raising a family and need every penny they can get. Renters are those who have little to start with (single mums, students, low wage earners) or retired people on fixed income. Not all pensioners get CPP, and many don’t collect OAP until they are 65, defined benefit pension plans are a rarity. Over the long term many of these people will fall off the “conveyer belt” of accommodation and become the new homeless! For others it will mean a hard choice between heat, and food, or prescription drugs.
As a taxpayer I would be more sympathetic to Mr. Pearce’s submissions if I could get satisfactory answers to the following questions
If the provincial government builds and maintains highways why do they not police them? Why is this cost borne by the North Okanagan?
Why do both Coldstream and BX Swan Lake have volunteer fire departments when they are just as urban a most of Vernon? Why don’t we have volunteer halls, at least for the Landing, and Predator Ridge?
Do we pay the same amount for policing and fire service as other municipalities, or more?
How many police do we have and are they all “effective”- not on maternity, or sick leave.
We cant just keep on spending beyond our means. We have to start thinking of alternative methods in all things we do. Perhaps we need more bylaw officers, auxiliary community police, and volunteer fire halls. Maybe more responsibility for arena’s and specific recreational facilities should be funded by the users themselves. We can’t go on this way any longer it is inequitable and unsustainable.