B.C. mayors want to change the way they do business with the next provincial government | Kelowna News | iNFOnews

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B.C. mayors want to change the way they do business with the next provincial government

Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran
Image Credit: Submitted/City of Kelowna
September 30, 2020 - 4:30 PM

Mayors of 13 of B.C.’s largest cities – including Kamloops and Kelowna – want to change the way they’re funded as they take on more and more responsibility for social issues.

The B.C. Urban Mayor’s Caucus held a Zoom news conference today, Sept. 30, to let provincial politicians know they want more done on things like substance use, mental health, transit and affordable housing.

But, central to all that, is a new funding arrangement that, they say, can be done without increasing taxes.

“What’s frustrating for us is that we continue to have provincially and federally-mandated issues, like social issues, downloaded onto us and we’re expected to provide services and programs when they’re not in our mandate,” Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran, who is co-chair of the council, told iNFOnews.ca after the news conference. “All we’re talking about here is, not necessarily new money, but a redistribution of money that is already in various systems and programs to really address what everyone is already actually doing on the ground.”

As an example, he explained, Kelowna has done well working with B.C. Housing on various projects in his city but other municipalities have not done so well.

“The question, with my B.C. Urban Caucus hat on, is why is that?” he said. “Why are there some haves and why are there some have-nots? We need to make sure every municipality, depending on the need, is given the same opportunities to help address the problems.”

Having per capita funding for affordable housing, he agreed, is one option that can be looked at.

The mayors want the new provincial government to quickly form a committee with them to revisit and implement recommendations from a 2012 Union of B.C. Municipalities report on changing the way cities are funded.

Right now, property taxes are their main tool for raising money but, according to Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun, B.C. already has some of the highest property taxes in the world so significant increases are not an attractive option.

On the other hand, municipalities only get eight to 10 cents of every tax dollar paid in Canada yet they pay for 60 per cent of municipal infrastructure and, increasingly, have to pay for social issues.

Some of the key things the mayors are asking for include an immediate expansion of the full range of substance use and mental health treatment and recovery options as well as keeping in place new rules allowing more health care professionals to prescribe safe alternatives to illegal drugs.

They want the pace of building affordable, supportive and social housing to increase and to balance the needs of renters and landlords.

On transit, they want to get away from so much dependence on users and local taxpayers paying for the system and move forward with expansion plans as a return to transit use is expected.

Most of all, Basran said, they want to have predictable and stable funding without increasing existing taxes.

“There is only one taxpayer,” he said. “At the end of the day, we’re just trying to say, redistribute the money that is being collected and distribute it to where it’s being utilized already.”

The mayors’ plan does not align with B.C. Liberal Party leader Andrew Wilkinson’s promise to put the PST on hold for a year if he’s elected.

“Municipalities are in need of more financial support,” Victoria Mayor and co-chair of the caucus Lisa Helps said in answer to a media question. “If reducing the PST results in cuts to programs, services or infrastructure investments that our urban communities rely on, then that would be bad news for our businesses and our residents.”

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