Debate comes down to competing visions of Campbell River

City councillor sees her job as a balancing act; taxpayer wants to hold the line

The brouhaha over taxation boils down to a salient point: What kind of city do you want to live in?

For Coun. Claire Moglove, who supports a tax increase, Campbell River residents want a city with “parks, trails, recreational facilities and a professional fire department.”

But for taxpayer Kathryn Alexander, whose husband lost his well-paying job when Catalyst closed the Elk Falls paper mill, she sees a city in financial trouble whose leaders should put fiscal responsibility first.

“The city needs to have the means to live within its budget without creating increases that will discourage existing residents to stay which, in turn, will negatively effect the local sales of small business, the number of children in the schools and volunteers in the community, and the list goes on,” she wrote.

In an exchange of e-mails, the two go tit-for-tat over the city’s financial issues which eventually prompts Moglove to write, “I guess we will have to agree to disagree.”

However, their exchange is typical of the coffee-break and over-the-fence discussions taking place across the city as councillors worked to whittle down budget costs.

While the budget numbers are still not final, many home owners – based on an average assessment of $268,000 – are looking at paying $136 more in taxes this coming fiscal year, an increase of 7.1 per cent.

The proposed increase was okayed by council last week which voted 4-3 in favour of the increase during a financial planning session. The actual budget still has to go through three readings before it is officially approved.

But Mayor Walter Jakeway is already incensed. He voted against the increase and charged, “Taxpayers are being screwed.”

Alexander is firmly in his corner.

“Currently the residents of Campbell River are not doing well financially and yet you seem to be blind to this fact,” she wrote in an e-mail to Moglove. “The shops that were already here and have closed over the last two years, the empty commercial space, and poor employment opportunities is an indication that all is not well.”

Alexander wants council to cut spending, shelve capital projects and to streamline services.

Her main point is the city will never again attract an industry as large as the mill that will pay anywhere near the same amount of taxes.

By and large, the closing of the mill, combined with its far lower assessment, left council scrambling to make up a $3.6-million budget shortfall, the largest the community has ever faced.

Coun. Moglove sees her job as a balancing act between good fiscal management while meeting the needs of the community.

“We have just completed an 18-month official community plan process, during which approximately 1,500 people participated,” she wrote in a response to Alexander. “The result was a document which incorporates the values and views of the community, partly as represented by those 1,500 people.

“The long and short of it is that, in my opinion, most people in Campbell River are looking for a quality of life which includes parks, trails, recreation, sidewalks, culture, etc.”

The councillor also included background information that shows the city has been fiscally responsible in the past.

“In 2010, in a ranking of lowest to highest, Campbell River was 90th out of 160 communities in B.C. for their total residential property taxes and charges,” Moglove pointed out.

“This includes charges from the municipality, town or village, their respective regional districts, regional hospital districts, regional libraries and school taxes.”

Other Vancouver Island communities that ranked higher than Campbell River included: Courtenay (93), Comox (105), Nanaimo (112), Sydney (129), Saanich (131) and Victoria (145).

But Alexander countered, saying that higher taxes will not do much to attract new residents or businesses.

“If anything council should be trying to make the taxes lower to encourage people to stay and more people to move to Campbell River including small business enterprise and retired folks on fixed incomes,” she wrote. “The more diversified the community the better chance it has for a bright future.”

The last word for this article, but not the ongoing tax story, goes to Moglove:

“Yes, Campbell River no longer has Catalyst to rely upon. The question then becomes, do we dismantle the amenities which have been built up over the years, or do we shift the tax burden to residential taxpayers, while continuing to look for efficiencies and to attract more businesses and residents to move here to expand the tax base?”