Who really pays?

Iam commenting on L.M. Nuefeld's letter in The Morning Star

Iam commenting on L.M. Nuefeld’s letter in The Morning Star. The letter provided examples of road projects that seem to have ‘missed the mark.’ As much as we all want pretty roads and some of us do want bicycle paths, the question that Nuefeld exposes is – who are these projects serving and why are certain decisions made by municipalities with respect to bike paths and road works?

The point of this letter is to peel back some of the layers of how decisions are made at the municipal level that allow for what may look like (or are, in actuality) liberal use or abuse of power at the municipal level.

The Local Government Act and the Community Charter bestow broad powers on municipal governments. There are a number of reasons for this, one of which is to grant municipalities responsibility (and cost) for the upgrading of roads and such within their jurisdictions. This removes the cost burdens of road maintenance from the province. Road maintenance at the local level is supposed to be paid for through our local taxes. Lately, however, a new form of funding is on offer. The provincial government responded to the economic downturn by allowing municipalities’ access to gas tax money for certain community-based projects. Bicycle paths fall under this category.

Projects are generally spoken about in terms benefits to the community. Presumably these benefits outweigh the process of acquiring lands and gifts necessary to build them. This is one of the reasons that bicycle paths are popping up in all sorts of places. It is hard to say that a bicycle path doesn’t contribute to better health, or a more sustainable community, and face it, who wouldn’t want a “free” bicycle or multi-use path? There is one problem: the land necessary for these projects must be available to the municipality if they don’t currently own it. This is the missing piece of the “free” path or road upgrade.

Up until very recently, it is developers, large and/or profit-based businesses, that “gift” land and services. If you are a business, the assumption is that you can afford to support the community to a greater or lesser extent. Sometimes, the cost of doing business in the North Okanagan is steep, however. Especially if your profits are being eroded by the economic downturn and you are struggling to keep afloat. Is this a problem? It could be for your business.

Many of us assume that the passing of bylaws is fair and consistent with people’s values. For the most part, they may be, but anyone who has gone to council and objected to a bylaw will soon find that this rarely has the effect of stopping or adjusting the bylaw. The reason: broad powers as it relates to bylaws – those laws that allow local authorities to dictate how we all go about living our lives and how simple words such as building permit, development and gift get encoded into law.

Very recently, the notion of development (often a word that embodies a negative connotation) has taken on a more ominous meaning in the North Okanagan through the wording of bylaws. The term development is now being applied broadly to any type of building permit.

That means for you, the taxpayer and property owner, your municipal government has the power to force you to give them land for whatever purpose they demand. For example, in return for such requests as to upgrade your home, build a raised deck, or add a bathroom, you may be singled out for special “gifting” to your municipality.

This labeling private individuals as developers in return for standard building permits puts every private home owner in this valley at risk for providing at least some form of funding for community projects such as road works and bicycle paths. Cash, road works, or land – it’s all up for grabs.

We all love beautiful roads and community spaces. But when individual citizens are expected to pay privately, we should all take note: which neighbour really pays?


J. Paterson