Thursday, 11 May 2017

Taxes and a Vision of a Better Community

The YRC Project area (with the St. John River in the far distance) as seen from Route 617 
Last night (May 9, 2017) I attended the fifth of five public meetings introducing the Rural Community Feasibility Study that is currently underway in our region. The question and comment period has run a similar course in most meetings and as a member of the Executive and the Steering Committee for the project I have attended all of them. The comment period typically starts with strong opponents, and usually their greatest concern is the tax implications of a move to a new model of local service delivery. Despite the best efforts of our rotating presenters and the able support of Shawn Robichaud of provincial government, there remain significant misconceptions about taxes. The biggest is that our taxes will ultimately go up much more than the projected 1.5 cents per $100 of assessment.

Currently we all pay into the gas tax. We pay several dollars every time we fill up our tanks. We likely pay MORE than our urban neighbours because living in a rural place, we drive more. 

For the past ten years or so, the federal government refunded a portion of the gas tax to municipalities in order to upgrade declining infrastructure. Eighty percent of Canadians live in urban areas and they are a significant lobby. Currently, as residents of the partnering LSDs in the YRC Project we are not getting any of the gas tax rebate. This has resulted in a giveaway of $5 million from the Project area over the last 10 years. 

In my view, we could have done a lot of good with $5 million; upgraded recreational infrastructure, refurbished community halls, perhaps a seniors centre so our elderly are not forced into Fredericton for assisted living, and more.

One gentleman commented at the meeting last night, that these funds, “are not new money” and that if we get the $750,000, someone else won’t have it to spend, the result being that the government will ultimately need to raise the tax rate (and thus we all lose). This isn’t necessarily the case. We would merely be laying claim to the portion of the gas tax that is rightfully ours. For years now, other communities have been spending and benefiting from the tax dollars that we have contributed to that pot. 

As other rural communities have organized, the pool of money has decrease per capita, but the federal government has not increased the gas tax to cover a shortfall. This is all the more reason to be at the front end of the curve on becoming an incorporated community.

The same is true of federal dollars that we contribute to the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. They have an Innovative Communities Fund with the mandate to:
-         develop competitive, productive, strategic industry sectors;
-         strengthen community infrastructure in rural communities; and
-         invest in projects that enhance communities’ capacity to overcome economic development challenges and take advantage of their strengths, assets and opportunities presented.

As LSDs, unincorporated areas, we are currently not eligible for this fund. We have already contributed tax dollars into this fund as well, we simply are not able to recoup any of that investment. 

The same is true of the Green Municipal Fund of Federation of Canadian Municipalities

 That fund was championed in the early 2000s by a current member of the York project area. It began with a series of large (hundreds of millions) federal grants. It could fund green transportation projects, green buildings (e.g. seniors complex).  I called a few years ago to see about potential funding for a study in Keswick Ridge. When I told the gentleman on the other end of the line that we were an LSD, he said, “this conversation is over, you are not a legal entity that they can deal with.” More of our pre-paid tax dollars that we cannot access.

I am not advocating that we go out on a wild spending spree or create fancy or expensive infrastructure just for the sake of spending money. Surely though, people have some ideas for things which could benefit our community. Things that are currently out of our reach financially, but which we could have if we had the vision to dream them and a governmental structure that would allow us to access taxes that we have already paid and that we continue to pay.

I would like to end with a quote from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. He once said, “I like to pay taxes. With them, I buy civilization.” 

I am not advocating that we pay more taxes, but by putting 1.5 cents per $100 of valuation on the table and forming a rural community, we will be able to access all sorts “civilization” that we have already paid for and that is there for the asking.

Tom Beckley

Secretary, York Rural Community Project

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