Cortes is the best place I know to live for many reasons, two of which are: the fact that we are largely left alone from all the regulations and bureaucracies of the larger world, and therefore are fiercely self-reliant, AND that we pull together and look out for one another. Our community has a split psyche of being both libertarian and social democrat, and many of us hold simultaneously both of these seemingly conflicting views. We are relatively united in our understanding of our strengths and problems, yet often very divided in our views about how to improve the situation, if not to just leave well enough alone.
The hall tax issue strikes deeply at this discord. In and of itself, it is a relatively small issue and not much money. Yet, it is acting as a public platform for us to express this discontent. Are the halls in essence private clubs that should be supported through volunteer efforts by their members? OR Are they a core social service provider that, like our schools and hospitals, serve everyone regardless of membership, and therefore warrant public support?
There is such a spectrum of belief here about that very question, and an equally diverse willingness/ability to contribute through taxation. One person owns three properties and wants to pay three times through an unlimited assessment-based tax which provides the halls everything they reasonably need. Another’s view is that they never set foot in the halls and don’t want to contribute a red cent.
So...how do we proceed..? Some want a tax and therefore hope a referendum will be the next step down that road. Others don’t want a tax and therefore want to stop the proposed referendum so there is no mechanism to create said tax. I am accused of being biased because I am siding with those that want a referendum. As Regional Director, I support a referendum not because I support the tax (although as a private citizen I likely will), but because it is the only democratic process that can resolve the issue. The alternative to democracy (wanting things to stay as they are without giving the populous the vote) is not a prudent course, nor a precedent worth setting. We also don’t want this unresolved issue to resurface over and over and over again. Substance
This week, the regional district will receive a staff report on this topic which includes both a petition for and against a referendum, as well as many, many, many of your letters. The staff report says “While there may be indicators of support (or lack of it) expressed through letters, petitions or local media outlets, the use of a formal process such as assent voting, referendum or alternative approval process is often the only method for determining whether a local service proposal has sufficient support for implementation.” It goes on to say “Refusing to become involved with this initiative conflicts with the Regional District's core purpose and is not recommended.” Staff are recommending that they be directed to consult the community and I trust this approach will be supported. If they find that there is sufficient support for a referendum, they will consult about the specifics of a referendum question and bring that back to the board. To view the staff report, both petitions and all the letters, visit https://agenda.strathconard.ca/public/agendas.asp?id=80&AgendaType=2&MeetingDate=10/11/2017&MeetingType=75
Please find below a list of questions pulled from your many public letters, along with my best effort to answer them. Further professional information will be available if/once staff further engage on this issue. Q. Hall taxes were turned down in 2010 when you were Area B director. What is different this time that would justify proceeding?
A. The first assessment-based tax proposal was turned down through a counter petition process. Many month later, after much community consultation, the second parcel tax proposal was not sent to referendum by the SRD board in part because they failed to see community support for it. This time there is a clearer demonstration of support asking for a referendum. Q. What are the next steps in considering a property tax for community halls on Cortes?
A. Next week, the regional district will receive both the pro and con petitions and many letters along with a staff report outlining the history and recommending a community engagement process. I expect to receive input from the community clubs and the community at large around the specifics of the proposed tax and I expect we will hold an open public meeting. I then intend to take a specific tax proposal back to the regional district and request that they proceed to referendum in 2018.Q. In your post on Tideline, you mentioned talking with the Klahoose Chief & Council regarding the hall tax. Since Klahoose is not governed by the SRD and does not pay taxes to the Regional District, why would their multi-purpose building be eligible for funds from a hall tax on Area B properties?
A. The tax funds could be available to any organization specified in the hall tax bylaw. Q. How would the specific proposal that would be put to a vote be determined? What kind of community consultation do you see working to define that proposal?
A. I intend to start with the last proposal that did not go to referendum in 2010, which outlined best thinking to date. I have asked for input from the community clubs and the community at large on specific suggested amendments to that proposal. I will take that input and recommend changes as appropriate to the Regional District and recommend proceeding to referendum with those changes. Q. In addition to the options of a tax on individual parcels and a mil rate tax on assessed value, why not a flat rate per household, the way garbage collection is financed?
A. The garbage collection is a fee-for-service user fee not technically a tax. Because the hall tax would not be directly related to service provided to each household, that form of fee-for-service collection is not available in this instance. Q. If the tax amount per parcel/home or a mil rate is capped, how would those limitations be maintained over time as costs are changing?
A. Almost all taxes have a cap and this one would be no different. The cap should be set high enough to anticipate reasonable future needs. If future increases are needed there are two mechanisms. The regional district board can increase the cap by 25% in any five-year period or a greater increase can be approved with the community's consent again through referendum. Although available, these mechanisms are rarely used.Q. When might a referendum be held?
A. I suggest either in the spring of 2018 as a standalone vote or in the fall of 2018 at the same time as the local government elections.Q. Is $18,000 the cost to us of having a referendum, win or lose? How would it be paid for, by an Area B mil rate or..?
A. If a referendum was held on its own it would likely cost between $5-10,000 depending on the number of polling stations, if there was a mail in ballot, etc. and far less if held at the same time as the election fall election. The funds to hold the referendum already exist in reserve and have been collected over many years from property taxes. If the referendum is successful, the hall service would repay those funds which could be used for any future service establishment work. Q. If the tax were approved, when would it first appear on our tax notices?
A. Most likely 2019. No sooner.Q. Does Area B have the second highest property tax rates among the 10 jurisdictions within the SRD?
A. No! Cortes has the second highest tax rate of the 4 rural areas. The assertion that we are highest of 10 comes from somebody who fails to account for all the municipal taxes paid by residents who live in town. None of these municipal taxes show up in the regional district budget and indeed account for the substantial majority of taxes paid by city dwellers.Q. If Manson’s Hall were to receive tax dollars, would ownership of the hall be turned over to the Regional Board and the SCCA be given a contract to run the hall? Isn’t this is what has been done for other Regional Board recreation properties such as the Skateboard Park and the Quadra Recreation Centre?
A. NO! If this is what Cortes wanted, we might be able to negotiate it. But this is NOT what is on the table. The skate park land is owned by the SCCA and leased to the regional district that then contracts the SCCA to do regular maintenance. The Quadra recreation centre was built on land owned by the Province. The land ownership was later transferred to the regional district. This is not our situation.Q. Do all residents and property owners get to vote in a referendum? Would there be absentee voting for residents who were away on voting day?
A. Voting eligibility rules for referendums are the same as for local government elections. Those rules are set by the provincial government. Rightly or wrongly that's how they are. To vote you need to be a Canadian citizen over 18 years old and either a Cortes resident or a property owner who lives elsewhere in BC. Whether there will be an absentee voting option has yet to be determined.Q. Would renters be allowed to vote even though they will not directly pay the land tax?
A. Yes. As long as renters are eligible voters in a local government election they would be eligible to vote in the referendum.Q. Is it fair for those that own 4 parcels of land and would have to pay this tax four times? But they would only get 1 vote. Some properties have numerous owners that would split the tax but would have numerous votes.
A. Fair? These are the rules that we have to work within. There is no perfect tax system. I am open to any more equitable ideas.Q. If the tax were a mill rate on assessed value, could it be applied only to property improvements and not to land value?
A. YesQ. Would foreshore leases also be taxed with a parcel tax?
A. No, this is not the intent. Q. Could the tax start out as a ‘voluntary tax’?
A. No. The Regional District does not have the ability to tax voluntarily.
Q. If funded by a hall tax, does this mean the halls will need to meet the requirements/standards of a government building (e.g. safety, seismic, accessibility, etc.)?
A. They already must meet these standards. There would be no change with the tax.