The future of the Skeena-Queen Charlotte Regional District is uncertain this week after islands directors shut down the Friday night meeting before this year’s budget could be passed.
Island directors said they had to take the unusual action to prevent a budget which would have hiked islanders’ taxes in order to cover a Skeena Cellulose shortfall which remains on the regional district books.
“The city of Prince Rupert has decided that the debt for the pulp mill is a regional debt,” Port mayor Dale Lore said. “They were going to ram a budget down our throats which would have raised taxes (on the islands)Â… to pay for the bad fiscal management and bad luck the City of Prince Rupert has had.”
The regional district’s finance committee had worked on a budget which the islands representatives supported and which would have raised taxes slightly. But at the last minute, the two Rupert directors presented their own budget and tried to have it approved.
The Prince Rupert directors have a “weighted vote” on financial matters which would have allowed them to pass this budget with the support of one other director. That support was coming from Port Edward.
Queen Charlotte director Carol Kulesha said her community would have been hit especially hard by the revised budget, which arbitrarily increased the Charlotte sewer and water share of administration costs to $50,000 from $16,000. It also snatched money from the town’s sewer and water reserve accounts, Ms Kulesha said.
“That’s totally insane, what they’re asking us to pay,” she said. “It is horrendously unfair.”
At the moment, there is no budget in place. Provincial legislation requires the regional district to adopt this year’s budget by March 31. It’s unclear what will happen next, but the Ministry of Community Services has been asked to step in.
Ms Kulesha said her unincorporated community is especially vulnerable in this situation. She urged concerned residents to contact the minister responsible, Murray Coell, by phoning his office at 250-387-2283 or by faxing 250-356-8508.
Masset mayor Barry Pages, who chairs the regional district, said the communities outside Rupert and Port Edward were united in their opposition to the new budget.
“It had dramatic implications for all communities,” he said. “My local taxpayers would have been asked to contribute 13 per cent more tax requisition because of the Skeena situation in Rupert.”
According to regional district administrator Janet Beil, the impact of the Rupert-backed budget would be: an 11 per cent increase to the tax requisition from Rupert, 13 per cent to Masset, less than one per cent to Port Edward, 13 per cent to Port, 29 per cent to Dodge Cove and Oona River, 14 per cent to rural Graham Island, 12 per cent to Sandspit and 14 per cent to Queen Charlotte.
MLA Bill Belsey called the situation “very interesting” and said he had some sympathy for the situation Prince Rupert and Port Edward find themselves in, of having to forward taxes which they cannot collect.
“I have phoned the ministry and told them they are going to have to deal with this issue,” Mr. Belsey said. “It may mean more taxes for everyone who lives in this region. Someone has to pay them.”
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