By Heidi Bevington–Incorporation would mean changes for Skidegate Landing and Queen Charlotte, but nothing drastic according to the consultant studying the issue.
Tom Reid, who prepared the community’s incorporation study, met with the incorporation study committee Monday evening to present his estimate of how the community’s taxes and administration would change if it incorporates.
Becoming a municipality would bring changes to, but, as consultant Tom Reid pointed out nothing is going to stay the same, even if residents decide to keep the community rural.
“Because the spending priorities of the community under municipal status can’t be known with certainty, two budget levels are presented-a lower and a higher level,” wrote Mr. Reid, in the study. In the lower estimate, taxes would actually drop by $7, and in the higher estimate, taxes would increase by $73.
The boundary of the proposed municipality is regional district Area F, which is roughly from part of Kagan Bay in the west to the eastern edge of Skidegate Landing. The boundary includes Lina and the Balch Islands to the south, and extends between 2.5 and 3 km into the crown land north of the community.
Within Area F, there are about 8 km of roads, which the municipality would become responsible for. Highway 33 would continue to be a provincial responsibility, and the forestry roads like the Honna Road would continue to be the responsibility of the Ministry of Forests. The province would continue to maintain all the roads for the first five years. In the sixth year the municipality would begin maintaining the roads. Mr. Reid estimates the cost of maintenance at between $76,000 and $91,000. The municipality would be responsible for annual maintenance of the roads and drainage systems as well as street-lights, traffic markings and signs, and miscellaneous road-related services.
Sewer and water fees would remain as they are now, with people who use the services paying and people outside the service area not paying. “The sewer and water budgets already include administrative staff costs as well as public works staff costs,” wrote Mr. Reid. He assumed that the budget for sewer and water would remain unchanged, and that administrative expenses would continue to be a part of the sewer and water costs.
Everyone in the municipality would pay for the municipal operating costs like council, office staff, office supplies, insurance and other day-to-day services. Mr. Reid estimates that the cost of this would be between $1,004,983 and $1,066,512 for the first year, and would rise steadily each year after. This doesn’t include money for protective services like policing, fire protection and building inspection.
People are already paying for similar operating costs through the taxes they pay the province and the regional district. So, while a household would have to pay municipal tax, it wouldn’t have to pay provincial rural tax, and taxes to the regional district would be reduced.
The bottom line for a household is that the cost of water, sewer and garbage would remain unaffected, as would school and other provincial taxes. Local taxes for householders would go down $7 for the low cost scenario and would go up $73 under the higher cost scenario.
Business taxes could go down as low as $159 to $3,910 or up as high as $289 to $4,358.
Mr. Reid pointed out to the committee that for the purpose of the study, he had assumed rural taxes would not go up. The reality is different though, he said. Rural tax has gone up 1.5 percent every year for the last ten years, and will likely continue to do so. However, because he has no way of knowing how much rural taxes might go up in the coming years, he just left them as is.
Policing is another cost Mr. Reid didn’t include. Right now, communities under 5,000 people don’t pay for policing. However, the province wants to change that in 2007. Since he has no way of knowing if that will happen, or how much it would cost, Mr. Reid left those potential expenses out of his estimate. If the province makes small towns and rural areas pay for police costs, though, the community will pay regardless of whether it remains rural or becomes a municipality.
A third change Mr. Reid left out of the study is population growth or decline. Because the community is so small, taxpayers would quickly feel any change in population, he said. However, it’s impossible to say how the community’s population will change, so he didn’t factor that in.
Currently, the regional district and province govern Queen Charlotte and Skidegate Landing. An elected management committee with six members oversees the community’s water and sewer budget and the day to day operation of the system as well as representing the community to some degree politically. However, the committee has very little real power, and “we’re just being tolerated,” said committee chair Anne Mountifield, who attended the meeting.
If the community incorporates the management committee would be replaced by an elected mayor and council.
Non-profit community groups like the community club and the fire department would continue to be independent of the municipality. The fire department could be transferred to the municipality if this was mutually agreed upon, and the fire department’s money could remain in its own reserve account to keep it separate from the general revenue.
At present, the management committee has two office staff and two public works staff. Mr. Reid estimated that the public works staff would have to increase by a part-time or a full-time person.
Some zoning regulations and building by-laws would need to be created, but they could be kept very minimal, Mr. Reid told the study committee. Right now the province approves subdivisions in the community, and the municipality would have to take over that responsibility. The municipality would likely adopt building by-laws for reasons of liability. Building by-laws could be enforced by a building inspector contracted to work for the municipality when needed.
The first draft of the incorporation study is completed, and the revised copy will be available to the public soon. A newsletter summarizing results will be distributed throughout the communities.
As well as mailboxes, copies of the newsletter will be placed around town and in the Observer to make sure everyone has the opportunity to know what incorporation would mean for the community.
Copies of the complete report will be available from the management committee office. And there will be a public meeting in January to discuss the idea further.
After that, the incorporation study committee will recommend if a referendum will be held or not. If it is, it will likely be in the spring, well ahead of the municipal elections next November.
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