Waters: Nothing as sure as death and taxes

It's budget time again for municipal councils across the province.

Alistair Waters

As they do every year at this time, members of Kelowna city council are reading up on the city’s financial future, boning up for tomorrow’s annual marathon budget deliberations.

Over the course of the day, each new request for money will get a once over—some with little or nodiscussion and others with comments aplenty from council.

In the end, the 2017 budget will be more or less settled upon, with a tweak here and tweak there to theproposed 4.4 per cent tax increase going in. A little more tweaking may occur between now and April whenthe budget will get the final nod. But usually, the final increase doesn’t differ much from the proposedincrease.

This year, the increase was 4.11 per cent. Next year, the proposed hike is 4.4 per cent. Both years, justover half the increase was due to the cost of building a new police services building and adding six morecops. A hike of around two per cent is generally the goal.

Every year it’s a balancing act how to provide what the public wants, needs and must have and keeptaxes affordable. Some years council does better than others. And make no mistake, it’s council that does—and should—be responsible for the budget, not city staff, even if it is staff that put the budget together.

The six men and three women who sit at the council table are responsible for how, on what, and why thecity spends money. Like it or not, that’s what they were elected to do. The buck really does stop with them.

And every year there are some in the community who call for that most sexy of municipal taxation moves—Iknow that’s an oxymoron—no tax increase at all. They say there’s only one taxpayer and she can’t affordto keep paying.

They say the city spends too much on frivolous things. They say the city employs too many people.

What they don’t say is what services should be cut to achieve the goal of what has been ridiculously calleda “zero per cent” tax increase. (If there is no increase there’s can’t be a percentage attached, even zero.)

This may not come as news to most people who have to earn the money they pay out, but nothing is fornothing. The costs to run the city won’t go down because the city stops collecting taxes from its residents.

Could money be spent wiser. Sure. Could savings be made by forgoing some things in any given budgetyear. Sure. But standing still tax wise is a guarantee of a financial butt-kicking down the road.

It’s happened elsewhere and it would happen here. That old adage about paying the piper holds true.Two per cent each year—or four per cent in the case of this year and next—is a lot easier on the walletthan nothing for a few years and 10 per cent-plus all at once a few years from now.

Of course no one likes paying taxes. But it’s not like it’s money for nothing. The returns may not be asmuch as some people think they deserve, but there are returns.

They come in the form of the aforementioned city services, city programs, properly surfaced roads,operations sewers, water and waste treatment, electricity and civic operations like planning to make surethe city doesn’t become a free-for-all for developers to build where they want, when they want and howthey want.

Taxes help pay for having your garbage picked up and, possibly the most important of all, keeping yourtoilets flushing.

It’s not about the increase, it’s about what you get for the money being spent. And if you’re not happy withthat, let the elected folk know.

Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the Capital News.