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
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.”
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?