B.C. mayors agree to pursue mandate

NANAIMO – Inaugural mayors' caucus wants to see tax distribution, downloading addressed by senior levels of government.

B.c.’s mayors are pushing back against provincial downloading.

The inaugural meeting of the B.C. Mayors’ Caucus last week in Penticton resulted in several points municipalities would like to bring to the attention of senior levels of government, said Nanaimo Mayor John Ruttan.

The meeting attracted 86 mayors interested in discussing the state of B.C. communities.

“We wanted to address the issue of downloading and some of the issues related to that,” said Ruttan. “Because this has never been done before, we were just trying to find a place to start and I think we had some informative dialogue. This meeting was to really put the province on notice that we have concerns that we feel are not being addressed.”

Ruttan cited the issue of problematic urban deer in many communities as an example of an issue left to municipalities to deal with even though wildlife falls under the provincial government’s mandate.

“The province tells us it’s sympathetic, but it has no budget to deal with an issue like that, and my response is that’s not an answer,” said Ruttan.

Eleven priorities were established by the mayors, including: eliminating the ad hoc granting process in favour of a more consistent system that can allow municipalities to plan ahead more efficiently; developing a round table discussion on aging infrastructure and how to deal with increasing costs to maintain it; affirming the core service delivery of municipalities; and calling for a full review of ambulance service.

Ruttan said many mayors expressed concern that only eight cents of every tax dollar is distributed to cities, making it increasingly difficult to maintain service levels and infrastructure. The mayors also resolved to redesign the cost-sharing formula to improve tax revenue distribution.

The B.C. Mayors Caucus, which is structured after other successful models like the Alberta Mayors’ Caucus and the Big Cities Mayors’ Caucus (Canada), is organized by a steering committee of nine mayors.

“We have to be far-sighted and innovative and we must be partners with all orders of government in finding efficiencies in how we deliver service,” said Kamloops Mayor Peter Milobar in a press release.

Smithers Mayor Taylor Bachrach said municipal government decisions have the most effect on taxpayers, and all levels of government must work together to improve efficiencies.

“As the front lines of government, it is at the community level that changes in public policy, and their resulting cost implications, are felt the most,” he said. “We must be partners in those decisions.”

Unlike provincial and federal governments, Ruttan said cities are under increasing financial loads with respect to downloading due to legislative restrictions.

“A city doesn’t have luxury of running a deficit,” he said. “And we just don’t have the amount of discretionary money that I feel senior levels of government have access to. We want to see a fair distribution of money, and we don’t want to see the load put on taxpayers.”

Delegates at the conference agreed to move ahead with their mandate of discussing the issues with senior levels of government.

The B.C. Mayors’ Caucus will meet again the day before the Union of B.C. Municipalities annual meeting in Victoria in September. For more information, please visit www.BCMayorsCaucus.ca.