By Alex Rinfret–It was a month late and it didn’t please everyone, but regional district directors finally approved a budget Friday night (April 22) in Prince Rupert.
The budget hikes property taxes for homeowners in the rural areas (including Queen Charlotte and Sandspit) by about 10-percent, said administrator Janet Beil. The property taxes contributed by municipalities remain about the same.
Queen Charlotte director Carol Kulesha, who voted against the budget, said she didn’t like the way all the communities in the regional district have been forced to absorb the $71,000 which Prince Rupert refused to pay last year (it represents money which the city was unable to collect from bankrupt Skeena Cellulose). She also was not comfortable with Rupert’s demand that Skeena Cellulose be removed from this year’s assessment roll, a move which is not allowed under the Local Government Act.
“If it’s not legal, we shouldn’t do it,” she said.
However, Ms Kulesha said the budget approved Friday is a big improvement over the budget which Prince Rupert tried to force through at a meeting in March. Island directors abruptly adjourned that meeting before the budget could be voted on, leaving the regional district in financial limbo. The provincial government granted it an unusual one-month extension, and directors had no choice but to adopt some sort of budget by the end of April.
Area D director Ian Hetman also voted against the budget, saying he didn’t like the bullying attitude of the Prince Rupert directors, who have a weighted vote on financial matters which allows them to pass anything with the support of just one other director.
“I didn’t like the way they were jamming it down our throats,” he said. “It’s just their attitude and the lack of team effort.”
The budget which was adopted is definitely better for islands taxpayers than the one proposed in March, he said.
“Taxes are going to go up a little bit,” he said. “It more accurately reflects the administration fee we should be paying.”
In the past, the municipalities have contributed most of the administration budget, even though the administrator spends most of her time dealing with the unincorporated areas, Ms Beil explained. This budget attempts to attribute the adminstration costs more equitably.
“I spend a lot of time on the Queen Charlotte Islands,” she said. “At one time, (Prince Rupert) had lots of money, so they never questioned it… But now they’re taking a closer look and they weren’t feeling they were getting a fair deal.”
Sandspit director Duane Gould, who voted in favour, called it a “compromise budget” which addresses Prince Rupert’s concerns and is fair.
Although his area will see a tax increase, much of it will be covered by the homeowner grant, he said, so many residents won’t notice it.
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