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Campbell River mayor urges a tax revolt against his own council

The mayor is calling on residents to stage a tax revolt in response to a 13.6 per cent residential tax hike.

“The public needs to arise and yell and scream. Have a tax revolt and not accept it,” said Mayor Walter Jakeway on Wednesday afternoon, one day after council adopted the new tax rate. “Taxpayers are being screwed – it’s true. They (council) didn’t need to raise the taxes that much.”

Jakeway ran his election campaign on a zero per cent tax increase for a community that has struggled economically since the shutdown of the Catalyst mill, the city’s largest employer.

He said if it was up to him alone, there’s “no doubt” he could have created a budget with no tax increase. Jakeway said he would have “cut the number of people” at city hall. He said there are a number of city staff positions sitting empty but are being funded in the budget, which has him scratching his head. Jakeway also disagrees with the amount of projects listed in the capital plan.

Jakeway said the $136 average increase will do nothing to help Campbell River’s image.

“When business owners – potential new residents – find out there’s been a 13.6 per cent increase they’re not going to come here,” Jakeway said. “Talk about driving people away.”

Coun. Claire Moglove was not pleased with Jakeway calling for a "tax revolt."

She said it's laid out in the Community Charter that the role of mayor is to reflect the will of council and to carry out other duties on behalf of council.

"The will of council was reflected in Tuesday's vote on the budget," Moglove said on Thursday afternoon. "Once council has made a decision, it is the mayor's duty and responsibility to speak in support of that decision. That is one of the hallmarks of being mayor. The mayor is the spokesperson for council and as such, the comments attributed to him are very disappointing."

But not everyone disagreed with Jakeway.

Coun. Ron Kerr said the budget “can’t end here” and that people are ready for change.

“The culture’s got to change at city hall but there’s this resistance,” Kerr said. “Nobody wants change or to leave the status quo.”

He said he believes Jakeway’s comments about a tax revolt are to give “people who are falling behind more hope.”

Council adopted the tax hike by a vote of 4-3 at Tuesday night’s financial planning meeting.

The increase translates to $136 more per year, based on the average home assessed at $268,000. Homeowners will only see 7.10 per cent of the increase because the 13.6 per cent will be offset by a decrease in the cost of user fees (no water parcel tax, a reduced parks parcel tax to $25, and a $20 reduction in garbage fees).

Last year, residential taxes increased by four per cent while business taxes went up half a per cent.

In 2012, the business sector was spared from a tax hike, as was all other tax sectors.

Coun. Mary Storry made the motion to increase property taxes this year.

“I made the motion because overall I’ve been very confident with the information we’ve received and the democratic process we undertook,” Storry said. “Certainly the input from the community was greater this year than ever before.”

Coun. Ryan Mennie, who voted in favour of the tax increase, said he recognizes there are some people who are of a different perspective than he represents.

“I learned you can’t expect to make everyone happy,” Mennie said. “Although no one likes a tax increase, in the grand scheme of things, I believe it is palatable because of the city services provided. I understand where a lot of the folks in the community are coming from. I’m the average tax payer, literally. I’m a young family man. I’ve got bills, I’ve got a limited income and sometimes I have to be creative.”

Moglove reminded everyone that council had come a long way since December when the city was looking at a $3.6 million deficit made up of an increase of $700,000 to offset increases in wages, replacement of $1.1 million used from reserves in 2011, and a $1.8 million reduction in taxation revenue due to the Catalyst property reclassification.

Moglove also said council had had an extensive debate on identifying core services and choosing cuts from the budget that would not hurt the community, such as closing the Sportsplex.

That left a tax increase.

“Is this a perfect solution? No,” Moglove said. “It’s a balance between what each member of council came to the table with. As I look around the table I see each one of us is a property owner. Do I want a 13.6 per cent tax increase? No. But what I prefer is to have the services those taxes pay for.”

Not everyone shared Moglove’s opinion.

Kerr made it clear he was not happy with the tax increase.

“I’m extremely disappointed in this budget,” Kerr said. “I did not run for election to maintain the status quo. I think this budget sends the wrong message. It says council is not prepared to get its own house in order. It says it expects the Campbell River taxpayers to continuing paying and maintaining the city. I’m disappointed.”

He said he has not heard anyone say they are willing to pay more in taxes.

“There’s a big chunk of the population out there, that this is a serious thing for them,” Kerr sad. “This is a situation where I think more education needs to be done.

“It’s not good enough to just say you can defer your taxes. It’s not good enough.”

Coun. Andy Adams also opposed the tax increase.

He said he came into budget deliberations with the intent to address the challenges posed by the significant loss of tax revenue from Catalyst.

Jakeway praised Adams for several options he put on the table throughout the budget process, such as reducing staff, cutting “nice-to-do” programs, and increasing water utility rates.

“Andy did a great job, I respect him because he came up with ideas,” Jakeway said. “I appreciate his efforts, while the rest of council just poked holes in everything.”

Adams said it was clear there were “philosophical” differences among council and acknowledged that’s what democracy is. Adams said he could not support the budget because it stripped the city’s only asset management plan, and he hoped for a more “palatable” number in regards to taxation.

“While I certainly am not in agreement with where we are and I’m extremely disappointed with where the budget and financial plan ended up, it is a democratic process,” Adams said. “If people have concerns they need to take it up with the people who voted to have the budget go in the direction it did.”

Jakeway said he is “not prepared to accept” the budget and said it’s not a done deal.

The budget still has to be turned into a bylaw, then receive first, second and third meeting, which Jakeway said he would “drag out as long as (he) can.”

After all three readings, the bylaw would be ready for adoption by council, which is slated for the beginning of May.

Property taxes pay for services such as water, sewer, emergency response, street maintenance, transit, airport, economic development, recreational facilities, the museum, art gallery, Tidemark Theatre, and Maritime Heritage Museum.

 

Cuts made to 2012 budget:

 

  • Sell five city vehicles (save $14,500)
  • Cut $150,000, or 2.5 per cent across all city departments, not related to staff
  • Reduce Water Parcel Tax to $0
  • Reduce Park Parcel Tax to $25
  • Reduce garbage fees by $20
  • Reduce council travel by $18,500
  • Reduce grass trimming and manual mowing by $14,000
  • Reduce horticulture by $49,000
  • Reduce Communities in Bloom budget by $24,000
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