Mayoral candidates tackle the issues — Part One: Taxes

By Greg Fry
September 25, 2017 - 10:59am Updated: September 25, 2017 - 1:53pm

KAMLOOPS — Where do the candidates for mayor of Kamloops stand on the biggest issues facing our city?

CFJC Today asked the six candidates about five different issues, and will give you their answers this week. (Todd McLeod failed to respond by deadline.)

Here's the first question we posed:

How should the City of Kamloops handle future tax increases?

Glenn Hilke: There should be a progressive tax system. People with higher value residential properties of $500,000 or more that can afford a slightly percentage will pay more. All others below will have a slightly lower increase or a temporary one year freeze. However, all property owners will have an opportunity to lower or freeze their taxes by participating in a new tax reduction incentive to help provide more affordable rentals to their properties (room rentals to new suites).

Micheal McKenzie: With all of council. I do not support making taxation decisions or promises without all of council's support, guidance, and direction.

Bill McQuarrie: I launched my campaign with a proposal to freeze taxes for one year that started a whole new conversation on property taxes. A conversation that began asking: Is it possible? Could it be done? Is there anything wrong with trying? What's wrong with asking?

In the past, any questioning of this nature was met with a dismissive: "But it's too complex for you to understand." I say, you have the right and need to know and question and challenge the old way. My goal of a one-year tax freeze amounts to not adding $2.6 million to the total existing budget of $162 million. This $2.6 million is less than half of what was spent on the acquisition and demolition of the Kamloops Daily News building, begging the question: "Why do some feel it is okay to needlessly spend over $6 million on a mistake but claim trying to save $2.6 million is impossible, simplistic and totally unrealistic.

Stu Holland: Attract more businesses and industry to relocate to Kamloops and open shop and create jobs and this will put more tax dollars in the pot to draw from and upon monitoring with professional auditors and accountants only then you can review with the money contributors the taxpayers of how much and why and where it's going before you need to ask for more of their hard earned money. And anyone that proposes no increase is trying to buy votes. You can't go to Safeway and just grab a loaf of bread without money first. Public comment period online and forums.

Ken Christian: Everyone is concerned about property tax rates. I commit to keeping them as low as possible. I don’t commit to a particular number and here is why.

Apart from being naïve and overly simplistic, committing to a particular number in the absence of data that drives that number is just bad public policy. Several British Columbia municipalities have tried that approach and it has worked for only a short time followed by a whopping tax increase. Zero Zero Ten. It is destabilizing and it causes damage to infrastructure that often costs more to repair than if you had done routine maintenance all along. It is like saying you are going to spend zero on vehicle maintenance only to find that it eventually costs you a transmission.

The city budget is a complex document. There is the general budget, the airport budget, the Thompson Nicola Regional District budget (where Kamloops pays over 60% of the general fund), there are the separate budgets for the three utilities: water, sewer and solid waste. There are the reserves in the general fund and in the police reserve and prior year surplus needs to be factored in. There are grants for infrastructure, climate change action, affordable housing, transit, gaming, and gas tax. Development cost charges can be applied to certain projects and user fees are always a moving target as we attempt to find the sweet spot between users and ratepayers. It requires careful study and a complete understanding of how one part effects another.

In my time on council I have worked closely with external auditors and have asked hard questions about the state of accounts and the integrity of our budgeting process. As your Mayor, I will continue to look for savings and make difficult choices about what is in, and tougher choices about what is out of our annual budget. What I won’t do is make promises in the absence of facts. My approach to municipal finance is to tax at a fair and predicable rate that funds essential core services. Additional staffing should be scrutinized against strong business cases that clearly show the benefits to the community. Contracts need to be negotiated by professional negotiators, not by politicians and tendering needs to be open and transparent.

As your Mayor I will support prudent financial management and robust internal and external controls; not zero zero ten.



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