The Vancouver Canucks won more than their first playoff game over the Chicago Blackhawks Wednesday night; it appears the team may also have won the hearts of Williams Lake residents, as they stayed away in droves from the City’s second public budget meeting.
A small fraction attended the meeting that took half as much time as the first held weeks previous. City council reiterated its message of a three-per-cent increase in taxation and offered some insight into what citizens could expect in budget discussions in the coming years.
Mayor Kerry Cook alluded to a council resolution made at its committee of the whole meeting last Tuesday to consider a more equitable tax distribution for the future.
She cited a 2010 summary of provincial tax rates and assessments for all property classes, noting that Williams Lake’s industry rate is ranked as the third highest overall. Currently, the City’s tax distribution is 38 per cent for residential, 23 per cent for major industry and 24 per cent for business.
“We are saying we want to increase industrial tax base and jobs but it’s tough to attract new industry when you are one of the top tax rates in the province,” she said. “We need a long-term plan in how to address this.
“Industry stands out. It’s very, very clearly out of whack. You can’t adjust one without affecting the other classifications.”
A resident countered council’s assessment, noting the ranking lacked context.
“Without the average assessed value a conclusion can not be drawn. There is a lack of accuracy and specificity and a lack of information. I suggest council get more information before changing the distribution,” he said of the report that includes neither assessed value nor the amount of industry in each community.
Cook said that regardless of context the head-to-head comparison of industrial tax rates could be a factor in whether companies chose to establish themselves in Williams Lake. With a constant tax distribution, assessed property value either up or down, growth or decline in a particular class can have an effect on a class’s taxation rates.
Council’s willingness to reassess industrial rates follows a recent complaint made by Tolko.
The company had outlined its concerns regarding property taxation at a committee of the whole meeting.
Following that meeting, Mark Stevens, general manager of Tolko’s Cariboo operations, told the Tribune, “What we face is not any different from what many other industries face because, as much as lumber is in the tank, the global economy is still weak and taxes as one of our cost elements is something we feel needs to be looked at by the town.
“For the health of all industry in the community and for the health of the community tax rates need to be reasonable and competitive. Otherwise there are other businesses that are making choices about where to operate or not and that ends up affecting all of us.”
It was further noted that in 2010 the province gave industry a 50 per cent reduction on the school tax it pays and a 60 per cent reduction this year. School tax is paid as a portion of property tax.
The same resident expressed his discontent with the City’s tax exemption bylaw that governs which organizations receive property-tax exemptions.
He gave the golf course as an example. “Let the user pay,” he said. “I’m not happy about subsidizing the golf course.”
Cook said council plans to have staff take a “look at the policy.”
“There will be major changes with how we decide tax exemptions. There are a number of things we can do differently,” she said.
The resident also suggested eliminating Wrestling Day as a local holiday.