On Oct. 18 the Regional District of Bulkley Nechako held a public meeting to discuss the upcoming referendum in Electoral area B (Burns Lake rural) and a portion of Electoral Area E (Francois/Ootsa Lake rural) from the top of Hoppers Hill to the north shore of Tchesinkut Lake. There will be another public meeting on Oct. 22 at the Rose Lake Community Hall. The referendum to vote on a tax increase to fund present and future operational costs of the Burns Lake Tom Forsyth Memorial Arena will take place on Nov. 3 with an early ballot on Oct. 24.
The regional district seeks a tax increase to cover increased operating costs and some repairs. A letter sent out on Sept. 28, 2012 indicated that, “The tax limits under the existing bylaw is no longer adequate to assure the long term success of the facility.” User fees have been increased to recover some of these operating costs, but they cannot cover the full amount without discouraging use of the facility.
Taxation will increase to a new maximum of $92 dollars per $100,000 in residential property improvements. This is an increase from the current rate of $60 per $100,000 in improvements. This tax increase would be based on 2012 assessments and would decrease back to $68 per $100,000 in 2020. This decrease would happen because by then a $75,000 1999 renovation debt will have been repaid.
Approximately 10 people attended the Oct. 18 meeting. Bill Miller, Director of Electoral Area B noted that the tax increase was a maximum and not necessarily what residents would be asked to pay. Cheryl Anderson, Chief Electoral Officer, said that residents would need two pieces of identification demonstrating identity and residency to vote on Nov. 3. Renters can also vote, as they pay taxes through their rent.
Village of Burns Lake Mayor Luke Strimbold was at the meeting to confirm the Village of Burns Lake support for the tax increase, and if the referendum is passed, then municipal tax payers will also pay the increase. “Council supports the increase, so we will not have to go to referendum,” Strimbold said.
Mayor Strimbold identified two areas of particular concern in the Lakes District. “In the Lakes District we have over 400 residents that live with a chronic illness like cancer, depression or stroke,” said Strimbold. And the increased strain on social services are in excess of $6 million per year. Strimbold also identified that the Lakes District has a violent crime rate that is 93 per cent higher than the provincial average. Strimbold sees a vibrant recreation centre as providing an opportunity to combat long-term health and social issues by ‘providing activities for people and the health of their families.’
“Village recreation has developed 335 hours of recreation programming and of that 279 hours are allocated to the arena,” said Strimbold. He also emphasized the tax increase will not be used to pay for the upcoming arena expansion. The expansion expenses are entirely covered by grants and funds that will not increase property taxes.
Local resident John Barth asked if the cost of the new facility will increase the cost of its operation, and if so, would there be enough money in this tax increase top cover the new operating budget. “It will be a challenge,” said Strimbold, “we’ll have to be efficient, but I think some of the programs we’ll be able to offer in the expansion will assist [with the budget].”
Miller added that, “We’ve discussed this a lot. We have to be careful that we don’t over tax our community. I honestly believe that this is a realistic number.”
There was a referendum on Sept. 26, 2009 concerning funding of the arena. At that time residents in area B and E were asked to vote on an increase in the tax base that supports the arena as well as an increase in taxes to cover the operational costs associated with the arena. That referendum was defeated.
The current referendum asks the pre-2009 referendum (and current) tax base to cover the operational costs of the arena at a higher tax rate than originally proposed. The higher tax rate for this referendum reflects the smaller current tax base. The referendum in 2009 would have seen a smaller tax increase because the cost would have been spread over a larger number of tax payers.