Penticton not alone in financial crunch

Mayor says local governments across Canada looking for more equitable sharing of tax dollars

Coming out of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities annual conference, Mayor Garry Litke said there wasn’t much disagreement about the problems facing communities across the country.

Without fail, he said, the mood from representatives was that local governments are being expected to provide more and more services and maintain infrastructure on a limited budget.

“Our ability to pay is limited by the fact that we only get eight cents out of every tax dollar,” said Litke. “Our only ability to pay is property tax. So we have no access to sales tax, no access to income tax or any of the other taxes that provincial and federal governments have access to.”

Past provincial and federal governments have shared their wealth with local governments, according to Litke, allowing past generations to build the country’s infrastructure.

“Yet our generation has done very little to maintain them. In the last 20 years, nothing has been done and now they are crumbling and we are facing an infrastructure deficit of around $150 to $170 billion dollars,” said Litke. “That equates to about $12,000 per household in Canada that this generation is passing on to our children.”

The question of infrastructure, he said, was addressed by representatives of all four — Conservative, NDP, Liberal and Green — of the major federal parties at the convention.

Local politicians, representing their communities at the convention, pledged that infrastructure funding would be a major issue in the 2015 federal election, said Litke.

“That is why it is so important to be here,” said Litke, who pointed out that 90 per cent of municipalities across Canada belong to the FCM.

“The FCM has a very influential voice with the federal government because it is directly connected to the voters through their locally elected officials.”

Governments do listen to groups like the FCM and the Union of B.C. Municipalities, according to Litke. The proof, he said, comes from the 2010 convention, where similar problems were discussed and a new Building Canada grant structure was introduced in response.

Penticton, he said, accessed the program, including to help fund the waterfront revitalization project. But the 2013 version of that program, he said, doesn’t have the same clear processes for accessing the funding.

“Nobody can figure it out, put it that way,” said Litke. “Up until 2012 FCM was being listened to and the federal government was responding to the need for municipal infrastructure upgrades. But those concerns seem to have fallen a bit by the wayside in 2013 and with the new Building Canada fund, because nobody can quite figure out how to get money into their local municipality.”

Though other communities had larger representation, Litke was Penticton’s lone representative at the FCM conference.

“There were other municipalities, much smaller than ourselves, who brought their entire council and staff. I won’t mention any names,” said Litke. But it is vital, he said, for Penticton to continue attending and participating.

Beyond advocacy and networking, Litke said there was information to be gathered, referencing a workshop looking at other options for funding communities beyond property taxes.

“Why can’t we get one per cent of the sales tax? Why do we always have to go cap in hand to the province and to the feds? Show them our rusted out sewer pipes or show them pictures of our potholes and say we just can’t afford to fix this?” he asked. “We’re the ones that get the phone calls. They don’t get the phone calls. We just don’t have the money to respond to the complaints we are getting from our citizens.”

A one per cent sales tax would give communities funding they could rely on and budget for the future.

“Then we could stop this conversation and stop the begging,” said Litke. “There should be alternative ways of funding local government, but currently there is not.”