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Castlegar Springs

The Grade-A services we enjoy in Castlegar from the library, water, sewer, streets and sidewalks, right through to the snow clearing operation comes with a hefty price tag. There is an indication out there that we are about to find this out, either through reduced services or increased taxes, as council balances a shift of taxes away from the industrial tax base, predominantly funded by the Celgar pulp mill.

We are not in too different a situation from the city of Colorado Springs, in which they found that municipal revenues were down some 28.9 million dollars or 8% from the 2009 budget. (Admittedly the tax structure is very different, as are the state laws on how much say taxpayers get in raising taxes, but the lack of revenue is similar).

In Colorado Springs, every third streetlight is dark. Buses no longer run at night or on weekends. City pools will soon be dry, trash bins have disappeared and the verdant grass in the city’s famed parks will soon grow long, turn brown and die.

The city no longer offers basic services that people expect from their local government

Read more: National Post – Budget crisis sees Colorado Springs go dark

Culbreth-Graft’s proposed $209.9 million general-fund budget, down 8 percent from the revised 2009 operating budget, will be formally presented to the City Council next week.

“The City Council will have a task that I have never seen a council have to deal with in my 32 years of experience that will (involve) some of the most egregious and horrific cuts that this city has ever had to experience,” a somber-looking Culbreth-Graft said.

“While the council has grappled with extremely difficult issues for the last two fiscal years, this one will be unparalleled to the pain and the agony in which they had to experience in the previous years,” she said.

Read more: The Gazette – City Unveiling 2010 Budget

As you can imagine, not everyone is thrilled with the situation, and some members of the business community have taken to forming a group to audit the City’s plans, they are called, “The City Committee”:

The problem is not confined to Colorado Springs – cities all across the United States are struggling, said Chuck Fowler, a committee member.

“Atlas is shrugging,” Mr. Fowler said.

“We have to manage our limited resources better. We’re looking to run a good, clean, efficient government. Nobody has a political agenda here. We’re really just trying to operate our city government within its diminishing means.”

Read more: National Post – Budget crisis sees Colorado Springs go dark

In Castlegar, we don’t have helicopters to sell or a police force we can cut, but we can be more restrained in how we develop infrastructure such as the plans to service the airport lands and the proposed gaming centre.

Castlegar Council recently met with members of the Chamber of Commerce to discuss taxation strategies and identify potential issues with the situation they are facing. Unfortunately, the invitation to attend the meeting came too late for me to attend, and was not from the City in any case, rather it was through a member of the Chamber – as far as I can tell, it was not announced publicly. Kyra at the Castlegar Source has done a write up of the meeting, which is posted here.

The City still hasn’t announced it’s schedule for public meetings or bylaw considerations for the financial plan, my guess is that they are waiting to see what the supreme court says about the Celgar issue, from this article on the Castlegar Source, it sounds like the Mayor is optomistic…

Chernoff said he expects the city’s position to be similarly vindicated in court [as for the other municipalities in similar cases], but the basics of the situation remain the same, by his lights.

“We still need to work with Celgar to make sure our largest employer is viable and healthy,” he said. “But we also need to see that (tax) bill paid.”

This goes to court on the 22nd and 23rd of March 2010, so I guess we’ll wait and see which way the budget will go. In the meantime, the question of core services and levels of service needs to be addressed. The infrastructure bill is rising, (and that’s just for what the City already has), there are legislated upgrades required to the water system, and the other levels of government are not flush with cash. Municipalities across North America are realizing as their industry or business tax revenue declines, that they are having to do more with less. Whatever the outcome from the court case, it is likely that the City will offer a reduction in taxes to Celgar, this slack is either picked up by residents as taxes, or in reduced services. Which will it be?

Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada. If I post something here that you find helpful as you navigate the world of engineering, planning and building communities, that’s wonderful. But when push comes to shove: This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.

2 thoughts on “Castlegar Springs

  1. Thanks for this ‘wake-up’ call, Mike.

    Timely, and to the point.

    The sooner the Residents of Castlegar weigh in on the Choices — higher residential taxes, or, reductions in services, or, BOTH (In my view, the more likely outcome) — the better.

    In the past, Councillors have been keenly aware of their ‘re-election strategies’ with every decision made..

    Now that they are faced by a ‘no win’ situation, they are eager to hear from the Public as to what their decisions should be.

    This then is great opportunity for Public Input.

    No need to wait for a ‘delayed’ schedule of Budget Meetings — my bet is there will be only one meeting with no opportunity for Publicly asking questions– on the Record — -and actually receiving answers Publicly and — on the Record.

    (Say what you may about the previous administration … at least the opprortunity existed for OPEN PUBLIC COMMENT, QUESTIONS, and DISCUSSION around Budget Issues.

    Democracy is “messy” and apparently the current crew at City Hall have no taste for a documented Public Process. I’m betting they will continue their ‘ tradition’ of the last two years … the ‘Coffee Clatch Format ‘… where no one is able to learn from the ‘wisdom’ or ‘opinions’ of the group. (“Far too ‘disruptive!” )

    So what can we do right now? Visit the City Web Site; Call City Hall; Call The Mayor and Councillors; better yet send each of them emails and demand responses: attend the Council Meetings, usually theh 1st and 3rd Mondays at the Forum (CBT Trust Building — Main Floor North of the backside of City Hall) Ask in advance for Delegation Status at the beginning of the Public Session, OR ask your Questions at QUESTION PERIOD at the end of the meeting. …. AND follow up with an email. sometimes ‘inconvenient’ questions get lost… and only rarely will you get a written answer. (‘It’s so time consuming!’)

    Correspondence only appears on the Agenda asks to have a letter included. And then, more often than not Letters are ‘received for information ONLY’ with NO Public Discussion. Sometimes the entire Correspondence lLst is ‘ waived through’ with no public discussion of anything included. (Makes for shorter meetings!)

    If you do want to send a Letter you will need to ‘ Lobby’ a Councillor to have it placed on the Agenda.

    To those who say, “We elected them for three years to make all the decisions… let them do just that …and if we don’t like it, we can vote them out later” — I say “BullFeathers!”.

    Anyone who was watching and listening saw the economic ‘writing on the wall’ 6 months before the last election, and the City is only ‘waking up and smelling the coffee’ now.

    Let’s face it …the world has changed … all of the ‘Experts” were wrong. The only ones who still don’t ‘get it’ are, apparently, at City Hall.

    Now is the time for ordinary members of the Community to speak up and let their PRIORITIES be known.

    It is OUR COMMUNITY … We MUST make EVERY EFFORT to shape the decisons that are shaping the FUTURE of OUR COMMUNITY!

    Raymond Koehler
    619 – 9th Avenue,
    Castlegar BC V1N 1M5

    250.304.2157

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