Outrage over Campbell River tax increase boils over

Campbell Riverites are taking the mayor’s words to heart and causing an uproar over a 13.6 per cent residential tax hike

Campbell Riverites are taking the mayor’s words to heart and causing an uproar over a 13.6 per cent residential tax hike.

Just one day after Mayor Walter Jakeway called for a tax revolt, a Facebook page (Campbell River Tax Revolt) popped up urging citizens to “rise up, speak their mind and be heard.”

By Tuesday morning, the page already had 61 ‘likes.’

The Mirror’s website (www.campbellrivermirror.com) was also flooded with 46 people commenting on Friday’s article in which Jakeway advocated for a public uprising.

The mayor said he was pleased with the response to his call for the public to “rise and yell and scream” and not accept such a substantial tax increase.

A group of taxpayers heeded Jakeway’s calls and planned to storm city hall at Tuesday night’s council meeting, after the Mirror went to press (for updates see www.campbellrivermirror.com). A protest was expected to start at Robert Ostler Park, before winding up at city hall in time for the meeting.

The reason for the protest according to the Campbell River Tax Revolt Facebook page, was to give the citizens a chance to speak to council in a public forum – something Jakeway tried to do during last week’s financial planning meeting but – with the exception of councillors Ron Kerr and Andy Adams– was shot down by other councillors.

Jakeway said he can’t believe council refused to give the public a chance to speak.

“As soon as you deny taxpayers (a chance) to come and voice their opinion, that’s when I started to shoot,” said Jakeway referring to his motion to host a public forum. “An elected politician should never tell the electors they don’t want to hear from them, it’s contrary to democracy.”

Council elected to go with a 13.6 per cent tax increase (or 7.10 per cent after reduced user fees are factored in), last week by a 4-3 vote. Councillors Ryan Mennie, Claire Moglove, Larry Samson and Mary Storry voted in favour of the tax hike while Jakeway, Kerr and Coun. Andy Adams were opposed.

The tax increase and budget still has to pass first, second and third reading (slated for April 17 council meeting) and then be passed as a bylaw (scheduled for May 1) in order to become law.

Jakeway said it’s far from a done deal and he’s confident the people of Campbell River have the power to reverse council’s decision.

“I don’t have any doubt at all, if they respond en masse,” Jakeway said. “It just takes one vote, and it becomes 4-3 (the other way).”

Jakeway said there is a list of capital projects – such as a rain cover for Spirit Square – that doesn’t have to be done in 2012, as well as a number of vacant city staff positions that could be scratched from this year’s budget in order to erase what started out as a $3.6 million deficit, without having to raise taxes.

He said of the $3.6 million, council only cut out roughly half a million in services, and made up the rest of the shortfall through reserves, and increasing business licence fees, park user fees and water fees. Jakeway said that’s not fair to taxpayers and is happy to see the public stand up for itself.

“Between tomorrow (Tuesday) night’s protest and the one on April 17 (the next council meeting), it’ll be good,” Jakeway said. “It’s amazing.”

Coun. Moglove doesn’t think so.

She said under the Community Charter the mayor is responsible for reflecting the will of council.

“Absolutely I’m concerned,” Moglove said. “The will of council was reflected in Tuesday’s vote on the budget. Once council has made a decision, it is the mayor’s duty and responsibility to speak in support of that majority 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.”

Moglove said she’s concerned Jakeway’s comments could reflect poorly on the community and discourage people from considering relocating to Campbell River.

“You look in the newspaper and see the mayor is trashing his own city – I don’t see that as useful,” Moglove said.

But Jakeway said council could change people’s perception by voting down the tax increase.

“If we drive it to zero now, people would think ‘oh look they changed it to zero.’ They will see a council that had a problem and fixed it and think ‘that’s a place we want to live.’ So this big hoo-ha (fuss) is a good thing.”

As for reflecting the will of council, Jakeway said council has not voted officially on the tax increase yet, it’s still just a finance committee resolution.

And, he added, even if it was, he doesn’t care that the Charter orders him to reflect the will of council because it’s the taxpayers he’s trying to represent.

“The responsibility of the mayor is to support the taxpayers who voted him in,” Jakeway said.