Monday, January 4, 2016

Salt Spring to be In Corporate or Not.

I know a lot of people on Salt Spring are grappling with the incorporation issue, the study, the vision, and the costs. I think study's projection that rate payers will only face an additional $15 per $100,000 assessed value is initially unrealistic to imagine given the likely immediate call for a town hall and all the extra cost that that one item alone will entail.

But realistically it has been said that while Bowen Island's (incorporated) taxes went up substantially, Salt Spring Island's taxes over the same period have gone up more so by almost 300%.

So you look at that and you wonder where and which taxing institutions are the culprit in the mix and what can truly resolved through incorporation?  Two notables jump out right away of course and they are the fire department which has gone from approximately $700,000 annual budget to closing in on $3,000,000 and the ever reliable annual budget increases of that feel good organization known as the Islands Trust, up from approximately $4,000,000 to well over $7,000,000 now. It should be noted that in years where we have had an incorporation study and possible referendum, the Islands Trust has held the line on tax increases, so there is always a silver lining in just doing a study and threatening to incorporate. ;-)

I will admit I voted against incorporation the last time and even help spearhead the NO effort with the image below...

I think between Eric Booth and myself we dove into a public discourse on the potential financial impact with our typical Capricornian concerns and alas in retrospect, Eric was right, taxes will go up anyway!

However, it is important to realise that while it is presumed that a centralized governance can be more efficient in allocating tax dollars according to community priorities, the incorporation study repeatedly mentions that that existing water boards, the fire department board, the Parks and Recreation Commission, Transportation Commission and other boards of Trustees will likely maintain their status at least in an advisory role to a town council. So representation will only become greater and possibly more effective in managing the lack of budget prioritization under our current de-centralized governance. To this I am all ears and hope to see how the final report factors this in.

One conundrum that still holds me back from choosing to incorporate has to do with the loss of power that ratepayers will have once a municipal council takes over and ratepayers lose their exclusive referendum-based option to vote for or against tax increases. In our current system we generally have referendums on all big money proposals and only property owners can vote on whether they wish to support this or that tax increase. Under a municipal model, and correct me if I am wrong, council would make these decisions and even if they did offer to hold a referendum, all island residents, not just property owners would have the right to vote. This is significant as it would leave ratepayers open to tax increases approved by everyone regardless of whether they were impacted tax-wise. This is a biggie for ratepayers to consider because as much as it can be annoying to be voting on every big project, it has been ratepayers' exclusive right to decide on which tax increases they favour. Savings on reduced Islands Trust fees may balance this out, hard to say.

The other issue that often follows incorporation, besides responsibilities for police and road maintenance which I think need much more detailed flushing out, is the individual impact of fees that council will come up with for things like business licensing and parking tickets that are often the bread and butter cash cows of municipal budgets.

I would certainly like to hear some pro-incorporation views and financial stats that would help clarify some of the positives because while I am all for a more centralized prioritization of our tax dollars, I worry the same old advisory commissions and boards will be there to maintain their fiefdoms of taxation while a municipal council grows a whole new level of governance expenditure.