MLA for Kootenay-Columbia, David Wilks, recently shared his views on some of the challenges facing small towns in British Columbia and what can be done by the higher levels of government to aid them.
“All small towns within the Province of British Columbia struggle with infrastructure. That is the largest issue,” Wilks said. “There is only one tax payer and that is you and I. As a result of that we have to find more efficient ways to spend our money.”
Wilks explained the municipal levels of government are the most challenged because they have to work off the tax structure they have in place for their community.
“In order for them to get more money, that is not going to come from the Federal or Provincial Government, they are going to have to raise taxes, and of course everyone knows that is not a pleasurable thing for any government to do,” he said.
Wilks acknowledged that this is why the Municipal Governments need help from time to time to finish infrastructure projects.
He explained that the possibility of more money filtering into local government would have to be a decision made by both higher levels of government.
As for the hope to see more money being shared from the Provincial Government to municipalities,Wilks sees one flaw in that idea.
“It sounds like it is a good option but at the end of the day the Federal Government does transfer payments to the province on certain issues such as health. Again there is only one tax payer and there will be a raise in taxes to you and I at one of the three levels,” he said.
In previous interviews with other local politicians the question was raised of what the breaking point would be for local governments and the people they serve.
Wilks said this causes very difficult decisions for the mayors and councils in small areas who have to decide what to provide to the citizens and what will be shut down.
Water, roads and sewer are three of the most important areas to be serviced for towns according to Wilks.
“Without water and sewer you have a very difficult time doing anything in a community,” he said.
When asked if he thought the recent transit cut in Golden was an example of these tough choices Wilks explained at the end of the day, if there needs to be cost cutting moves made, then they have to come from somewhere.
Another area of some contention for the local government is the way the granting system operates.
Wilks said he thinks there is a way to make the system more efficient.
“I share the frustration of all mayors and councils across British Columbia on that,” Wilks said. “I do know we need to find better efficiencies to, at least if nothing else, inform communities if they are successful or unsuccessful in their applications.”
Wilks added many times communities need the funds to move forward and they are left hanging to possibly end up borrowing more money for projects. He has been spending time in many of the local communities which he serves and said they all have concerns moving forward.
Some of the main concerns people have talked about deals with having the resources to keep projects moving forward.
In Golden he believes the number one priority is the condition of the Trans Canada Highway and the work which needs to be done on it.
As for some concerns that have been raised over the sustainability for small towns to survive, Wilks used the example of a town like Field which he says is in a unique position where they are caught between trying to create a vibrant community and being in a National Park.
“Towns have failed in the past because the economy goes south,” he said. Wilks used the example of Tumbler Ridge where coal mines shut down in the 1980s and people worked hard to make the town vibrant again.
Wilks shared what he is trying to accomplish in Ottawa.
“Certainly in Golden the number one thing that I am trying to get done is to push forward the improvement to the Trans Canada Highway. It is an important part, not only to Golden, but across Canada from coast to coast,” he said. “I think what I will always try and impress upon in Ottawa is that municipalities are the lowest end on the tax structure for getting things that they need done in their communities and at some point in time we have to find a way to better assist them.”