Always a contentious issue, the candidates for the upcoming municipal election took some time to address the current municipal tax rate at the Mirror’s all-candidates forum on Monday night at the Tidemark.
The candidates on hand that night had some differing views on how too keep taxes down – or whether that is even possible.
Kermit Dahl says it’s not just the percentage rising that leads to the struggles people are having with them, it’s also the rise in assessed value of their homes.
“House prices have gone up in Campbell River, for a lot of people, 20 or 30 per cent in the past two years, so with the tax rates we have and the assessed values we now have, our property tax costs, I think, have gotten too high,” Dahl says. “I’d like to see some new ways of generating revenue in Campbell River other than just raising taxes. There are other ways to make money. Raising taxes isn’t the only way.”
Colleen Evans says that when Campbell River is compared to other communities, we consistently come in somewhere in the middle in terms of municipal tax rate – and she thinks for the services offered in exchange for those taxes, we come out pretty well.
“We do an annual comparative with 22 other communities every year,” Evans says. “In 2018, the B.C. annual taxation average was $2,351 and Campbell River’s was $1,984. Nobody likes taxation, but it’s the reality of being able to offer the kinds of services and programs that we all want in our community.”
Ron Kerr says he understands the community’s concern when it comes to tax increases, council does its best to balance all the service requests it gets with what it feels is reasonable to ask of the taxpayer.
“Having a 10 year financial plan allows us to spread some of those tough decisions out along the 10 years, and we know that we can start planning for them and get grants that are going to be required to pay for them,” Kerr says, adding long term planning is what allows council to keep the tax increases as low as they are rather than have sudden spikes like what happened when the mill shut down.
Marlene Wright points out that many people don’t realize what portion of their annual bill is actually municipal taxation, making it seem like the city is collecting more than other communities do.
“We bundle municipal taxes and the service taxes together, so it can look like it’s very expensive compared to other places, like Courtenay, for example,” Wright says, adding that she agrees with Kerr’s assesment of the 10 year plan allowing council to balance increases out over time and keep them to a minimum.
Michele Babchuk echoed those sentiments, adding that the costs of the things the city spends money on rise over time, just like everything else, and they can’t continue to deliver the same services for the same cost year after year.
Babchuk says over the last four years, the tax increases in Campbell River have been 1.7, 2.4, 2.5 and 2.1 per cent, “when we’ve watched other communities up and down this island hit seven or eight per cent, depending on what they’re trying to build, so I think we’ve done a great job.”
Allan Buxton looked at a different statistic and says there’s also geography to consider. There are obviously more municipal costs, he says, associated with Campbell River being large – physically – relative to its tax-paying population.
Comox, with a population around 14,000, covers an area of 14 square kilometres, and Courtenay’s 25,000 people cover 28 square kilometres. Campbell River, on the other hand, has a population of 37,000 people spread out over 141 square kilometres, so he thinks council “has done a pretty good job” when it comes to keeping taxes down.
He does add, however that he sees increasing taxation as “the last resort when all other avenues have been exhausted.”
Charlie Cornfield says he’s of the opinion that council needs to start learning to live within its means and stop approving service level increases.
“I do not favour increasing taxes every year,” Cornfield says. “I believe it’s our job to keep them as low as possible, so council needs to learn to say no.”
You can watch Monday night’s forum in its entirety on the Mirror’s Facebook page at facebook.com/campbellrivermirror