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Pay now or pay later: Worth discussion?

December 18, 2012 - 6:12 PM

A Kamloops councillor is not happy with the way the city is handling its debt, but found himself powerless to do anything about it.

Councillors approved a $3.3 million expansion of Juniper's Highland Road Tuesday and another $2.4 million is expected to be approved to upgrade lighting along the North Shore's Tranquille Road. While Coun. Donovan Cavers supported the projects, he was concerned over council debt and said he wants to see a city workshop on debt next year.

"I'm not comfortable with the current philosophy on debt," he said.

He suggested the city start coughing up more money up front for these kinds of projects to minimize borrowing. It can be done, he said, if city planners start forecasting these large budget items ahead of time.

"Monies can be built up to at least pay a large part of the principal," he said.

His motion was defeated but he did manage to spark a lively debt debate by councillors. Coun. Marg Spina said council can't be inflexible about accruing debt and can't ask taxpayers to foot the bill with a lump sum tax increase.

Cavers said he understands it would be a long slow change in philosophy, but the discussion was needed.

"I'm definitely not against these projects," Cavers said. "I'm not suggesting we pay for things outright with a tax increase. I think it's a discussion we need to have."

Mayor Peter Milobar said they discuss it every year at budget time during the election.

Coun. Tina Lange said debt is important.

"We want to share the pain with future generations," she said. "I don't want to tax people today for big ticket items."

Coun. Pat Wallace said with an inflexible plan, the city would never do anything and would be left little wiggle room during emergencies.

"We did that years and years ago in the 80s," she said. "What we found out was you can't do a lot."

Coun. Nancy Bepple added that increasing taxes can be politically unfavourable.

"If we don't have a political will to set a tax rate that supports that, I think that workshop is in vain," she said.

Coun. Ken Christian said debt is part of an organized capital budget process.

"People don't wait until they have $275,000 to buy a house," he said. "If you were to get rid of that, you'd have wild tax fluctuations all over the map."

Milobar added that council would need to increase taxes by 10 per cent for the projects presented at that day's council meeting.

"I don't know if citizens of this city would ever build anything again," he said. "I don't see the value of a workshop."

Despite being defeated in his motion, Cavers was not convinced the debate was over.

"We obviously all have a lot of thoughts on this, and I'm sure we all have more."

— Jessica Wallace

News from © iNFOnews, 2012

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