B.C. cities counter business tax critics

UBCM warns of tough choices to lower corporate property tax rates

UBCM president Barbara Steele

B.C. cities are fighting back against years of repeated attacks from business lobby groups over municipal spending and taxation policies.

They’ve released their own analysis that concludes small business demands for lower tax rates would shift more of the tax burden to residential payers, resulting in a 14.5 per cent property tax hike for the average B.C. home, or an extra $230 per year.

The report by the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) counters a series of papers by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), rejecting claims of out-of-control civic spending.

“Municipalities are investing more in the areas that matter most to our communities,” said UBCM president Barbara Steele, a Surrey councillor. “Our operations are becoming more efficient.”

Spending is up primarily because of escalating police and firefighting costs and growing demand for recreational services, the report says, not from general government overhead.

It also notes federal and provincial governments are imposing higher costs on local taxpayers – through more onerous requirements to cut greenhouse gases, improve drinking water quality and clean up sewage discharges – often without enough accompanying financial aid.

Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore, vice-president of the UBCM, said general government costs have on average declined over 20 years.

He rejected claims businesses don’t have enough say, noting three-quarters of mayors come from the private sector.

“There is excellent representation from local business,” he said.

The CFIB argued civic spending has grown twice as fast as the population and inflation combined.

It wants the province to force cities to cap business tax rates at no more than twice the rate residents pay, amounting to a significant cut in most cities.

Capping business rates at that ratio would “would lead to revenue shortfalls in almost every city, town and village,” the UBCM report warns.

CFIB vice-president Laura Jones said her organization has never argued for making up the difference by raising residential tax rates, adding cities should instead cut spending.

“They’re being a little bit intellectually dishonest in the way they’re positioning the study,” she said. “I think it’s a strategy to deflect attention away from the overspending thats’s going on.”

Jones did not name specific civic services to cut.

“I would look at wages and benefits of staff,” she said.

Total municipal compensation is 30 per cent above comparable pay levels in the private sector, Jones said, adding civic wages and benefits should be frozen until they get within five per cent of the private sector.

The UBCM study warns councils not to take such advice seriously, noting contracts are negotiated and can’t be arbitrarily imposed.

It also cautions that some critics who seek to cut non-core services define them as anything that can be delivered by private firms.

The report said that could apply to parts or all of recreation, transit, economic development, arts and culture, housing, garbage collection and perhaps other local services.

Some services like parks and recreation, where cities face growing demands, generate hard-to-quantify social dividends by keeping seniors and youth active, healthy and engaged, the report said.

Gregory Thomas, B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said residential tax hikes to cover business cuts would be a “nightmare scenario” but argued cities can take a firm line in upcoming bargaining with their unions to cut costs.

“Public sector employees have been wildly successful at the bargaining table,” he said. “(Councils need to) spine up and take the employers’ side, take the taxpayers’ side in negotiations.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Hope’s visitor centre re-opens, as tourism revs up in the area

Visitor centre, area tourism businesses open doors as B.C. travel allowed by provincial government

Harrison Festival Society unveils further summer lineup

Children’s concert, drum making on deck for July 15 and 18

Fraser Valley Real Estate Board says sales double in June, buyers returning to market

Month’s property sales rebound 113% over May’s sales, 32% over June last year

Return of the Jedi – and the Chilliwack Cultural Centre art gallery

The O’Connor Group Art Gallery re-opens today with Chris Woods’ Star Wars themed paintings

Fraser River may surge one more time next week

It’s unusual for the Fraser River to peak twice in one season, let alone three times

The pandemic is widening Canada’s workplace gender gap

Gender pay gap is incentivizing fathers to work while mothers watch children, a new B.C. study has found

Investigation clears RCMP in incident where man fell from Langley overpass

‘Officers acted commendably and placed themselves at risk’ police watchdog report finds

Ex-Okanagan Mountie forfeits 20 days’ pay after sexual misconduct review

A former Vernon RCMP constable made sexual comments, grabbed genitals of male officer in two incidents 10 years ago

Rural Chilliwack residents asked to stay indoors, lock doors amid heavy police presence

Heavy police presence in rural Chilliwack neighbourhood as RCMP contend with ‘serious situation’

Councillor Doug Elford Surrey’s acting mayor during McCallum’s “health concern” absence

Mayor issued a statement Tuesday night saying he’ll be back on the job by Monday

Man found dead on Okanagan trail identified as Hollywood actor

GoFundMe campaign launched for man found dead at summit of Spion Kop

3 people dead in Prince George motel fire

Fire personnel believe the blaze was suspicious although investigation in early stages

B.C. sets terms to review police, mental health, race relations

MLAs to recommend Police Act changes by May 2021

Most Read