Struggling municipalities gather their thoughts

AKBLG governments met in last month for a workshop and roundtable discussion about the challenges facing municipalities.

Kootenay and Boundary municipal governments met in Cranbrook last month for a workshop and roundtable discussion about the challenges facing our local governments.

Mayor Christina Benty, who is the vice-president of the Association of Kootenay and Boundary Local Governments (AKBLG), organized the workshop to help bring some of their issues out in the open, and to help the AKBLG focus on fewer, clear, succinct resolution to bring to UBCM.

“Local governments are under a lot of scrutiny right now. And I think it’s important that people know what the challenges are for local government,” said Benty. “One of our challenges as a municipality is that we have the most varied infrastructure. And that infrastructure is aging. We have crumbling roads and sidewalks, aging pipes, aging buildings that need to be replaced, we’ve got escalating community safety requirements, and of course there’s always the increased demand for services from our residents.”

Gaëtan Royer, author of Time for Cities, spoke at the workshop, and then the attendees broke into smaller groups for roundtable discussions. The groups discussed the difficulty of maintaining municipal infrastructure with only eight cents of every tax dollar collected, and inability to prioritize properly with such a strict granting system.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about quality of life. We want to build communities that people want to live in. If we only provide core services, we’re losing our quality of life,” said Benty.

“This eight cents on the dollar is a problem. If you look, historically, relative to the GDP, the provincial and federal taxes have more than doubled. And property taxes, relative to the GDP, have stayed the same.”

The difference is that provincial and federal taxes are collected consistently throughout the years, whereas municipalities collect their property taxes all at once. People feel it more.

Local governments are under a lot of scrutiny right now, and many people are calling for reduced spending. Benty wants people to understand that a struggling economy has no affect on the town’s responsibilities.

“People don’t realize, that regardless of the economy we have to provide the same level of service. We can’t reduce the quality of water. We have to provide the same level,” she said. “At the end of the day, it’s all about quality of life. We want to build communities that people want to live in. If we only provide core services, we’re losing our quality of life.”

These are common themes being discussed at every municipal organization across the country.

“It’s starting to gain some momentum, and we want to be part of that,” said Benty. “I want the public to be aware of what the challenges are, and I want to be part of the wave of municipalities across the entire nation that are sending the message that we need reform.”

The next step for the AKBLG will be to compile the information and the feedback from the workshop, and start developing points to bring to the organizations AGM in the spring.