Penticton council can’t dictate the market’s needs

Amendments to city's economic investment zone bylaw must balance economic incentives with a competitive marketplace

The continuing reverberations from the global financial crisis have left Penticton council walking a tightrope to balance the best interests of the community they serve.

At one end of the spectrum are incentives designed to attract new business and the jobs they bring with them, while the need for a competitive marketplace looms large on the horizon.

The city’s delicate path was in clear view at this week’s council meeting, where third reading was given to an amendment that would provide a $500,000 tax incentive for the developer of a retirement resort.

Regency Resorts has announced plans to build a $25 million, 159-unit retirement resort off Yorkton Avenue in the south end of the city. Southwind Retirement Resort is anticipated to create about 50 full-time jobs and inject an estimated $2.5 million into the local economy.

But the $500,000 tax break, coupled with a $150,000 discount on building permit fees, has left some of the city’s other retirement complexes feeling their future competition is being given an unfair advantage.

“You are interfering with the marketplace (using) taxpayer dollars,” said Leo Mead, the owner of Athens Creek retirement lodge.

While maintaining a competitive marketplace is something council needs to bear in mind, the primary goal of the economic investment zone bylaw must be providing incentives to create local jobs and stimulate economic activity.

Southwind Retirement Resort will do just that, but council has clouded the issue through the wording of the proposed bylaw amendment. It limits tax breaks to facilities with a “resort-like atmosphere” and at least 25 per cent amenity space.

It is not for council to dictate what a business should provide to its customers. Council simply needs to create a climate to encourage sustainable growth, and allow the marketplace to determine what services are in demand.