Tax dollars can always be better balanced

The question comes down to money – how much taxpayers can bear when the province and the federal government are already taking a big chunk.

It all started with the boathouse project.

Well, in truth, it started much before that, but for the sake of this column, I’ll start there.

A group of community organizers came up with a project that would see a new boathouse built on the waterfront, near Departure Bay, to attract athletes and teams from boating sports – rowing, dragon boating, canoeing, that sort of thing. The plans showed a state-of-the-art facility, with meeting rooms and storage areas for visiting teams to safely store their equipment.

It was designed to bring athletes from across the province and the country, increasing tourism dollars spent in our economy and to support major events like the Save-On-Foods Nanaimo Dragon Boat Festival that draws thousands of athletes and spectators annually.

The only downside was the amount of money the proponents wanted the city – taxpayers – to chip in. The City of Nanaimo decided it was too steep and declined to offer taxpayer support.

Following the boathouse was the SPCA’s request for a contribution to its new shelter, which it must now build as the lease at its current facility on city land has not been renewed. The shelter is pegged at $2.7 million, with the non-profit organization asking taxpayers for between $150,000 to $200,000.

The SPCA provides a valuable service to the community and its furrier residents. Programs help control feral dog and cat populations, while the shelter provides a safe place for animals until they find homes with new humans. Education and advocacy work give voice to those that can’t speak for themselves.

The city, so far, has supported this request for funding, asking staff to look into the feasibility of funding the project over the next three years. Council was expected to consider the request again at last night’s meeting.

Next on the list is the Port Theatre’s studio space project. It’s essentially a less formal and more flexible theatre, allowing smaller groups to fill the space with patrons at a more manageable cost than booking the 800-seat mainstage. You can move seating around or take it away altogether and use it as a rehearsal hall.

Harbour City Theatre Alliance took over management of the former Centre Stage theatre on Victoria Road, filling much of the fall and spring seasons with theatre performances. The under-rated Malaspina Theatre at Vancouver Island University is also popular with not only the school’s theatre program, which produces two mainstages in the fall and spring, but with community groups able to fill its 300 seats. Both venues show no shortage of tenants for the coming year, but it leaves a number of small performing arts groups and musicians with little space to perform outside of bars, nightclubs and coffee shops.

The Port’s studio theatre would undoubtedly be well used, especially with the management team able to draw on national and international acts to fill dark days. The plans and vision are readily available on the Port Theatre’s website and open houses have helped residents understand the costs associated with the project. The plan went before city council last night for discussion.

Each of these projects would add greatly to Nanaimo’s inventory for sport, arts and community service and it shows that residents are actively involved in improving the city, but the question always seems to come down to money – how much taxpayers can bear when the province and the federal government are already taking a big chunk of that revenue.

Municipalities arguably play the greatest role in citizens’ lives, yet have the hardest time raising capital to improve infrastructure and facilities. Organizations, like the three mentioned above, are forced to apply for provincial and federal grants to have some of that tax revenue come back to the city.

As budget deliberations begin at Nanaimo’s council table, it’s time for the three – or more – levels of government to find a new way to share tax revenue.