A request from the northern part of the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) for more funding could result in every other jurisdiction paying 36 per cent more in tax requisitions this year.
The District of Lillooet made an official request late last year to receive an additional $300,000 from the PILT (payment in lieu of taxes) funds BC Hydro pays to the SLRD. Specifically, Lillooet wants funding in relation to the Bridge River 1 and Bridge River 2 power plants that are adjacent to the community because of longstanding financial issues it cannot address by current funding sources.
The request for additional funding to the SLRD indicated that if funds are not received, residents of the north will be faced with a reduction in services such as recreation, economic development, airport and fire and emergency management.
According to a report seen by the SLRD board during its Monday (Jan. 28) meeting, the proposed reduction in PILT funding to the SLRD would result in an increased tax requisition to all other jurisdictions of 36 per cent. That means Whistler would be asked to pay $186,126 more, Squamish $71,202 more and Pemberton $9,662 more. Areas A, B, C and D would be required to pay $2,971, $1,800, $10,280 and $11,755 more, respectively.
Pemberton Mayor Jordan Sturdy said that amount is not inconsequential to Pemberton as it represents a one-per-cent tax increase to his residents.
“I am not so dismissive about that particular number and clearly it is an emotional issue,” he said. “I propose that what we are talking about here doesn’t create a solution, it just kicks the can down the road so that next year we can have the same conversation.”
Sturdy said Lillooet should instead look at a boundary change, which is another option open to the northern community in order to realize additional funds from BC Hydro. Whistler director Jack Crompton echoed Sturdy’s call for a more permanent solution, adding that reallocating the PILT funds in 2013 would pass the problem onto his Whistler taxpayers.
Area A director Debbie Demare said the issue is not just about dollars and cents, but about the health and wellbeing of the communities to the north.
“I’m really torn on this entire discussion because if you boil it down to dollars and cents it is easy for some around this table to make a decision,” Demare said. “As a board we need to grapple with what kinds of support and things we can do in the long term to support the health and wellbeing of the north.”
She said the board is weighted in favour of the larger communities in the SLRD and the rural areas to the north are struggling while those to the south benefit from economic development.
District of Lillooet director Kevin Anderson said the SLRD is supposed to consider the long-term planning and governance of the entire district, but “there has been a pattern of dismissal going on over successive boards where the north has been marginalized.
“We have been going through a little bit of a tough patch and we are trying to address our infrastructure needs and set us up for the future and this is a small part,” Anderson said.
Area C director Susie Gimse said the debate and the issue is not a new one, but she would like to see the northern areas reach an agreement on what they think is fair and reasonable first.
“I hear different things from all three northern directors where they say the north needs help, but what each says is needed in their areas is not consistent,” Gimse said.
Area D director Moe Freitag questioned whether the entire north is economically depressed or if Lillooet is dragging down the others.
“To just hand over money with very little conditions attached, I have great concerns with that,” he said, later adding his area could also use more funds allocated to it.
The SLRD continued its budget discussions on Tuesday (Jan. 28), however final discussions on the PILT issue are not expected until another meeting of the board.