N. Cowichan looking for infrastructure fund boost

North Cowichan councillors are going to see if there’s some way to pry more money out of the Building Canada Fund.

This federal transfer to the provinces, estimated at about a billion dollars a year in B.C., is supposed to help municipalities pay for upgrades to failing infrastructure but the provinces only hands over 40 per cent of the money, according to Coun. Kate Marsh.

That’s leaving local governments with big bills and no way to pay them, she said at the June 3 North Cowichan meeting.

“Local governments collect only eight per cent of total tax revenue in Canada but are responsible for 60 per cent of the infrastructure demands, which contribute to the upward spiralling of property taxes,”, Marsh continued.

She urged her colleagues to push the Union of B.C. Municipalities to petition the province to allocate 60 per cent of the Building Canada Fund “directly to local government.”

Taxpayers have been complaining locally about bigger tax bills, and with reason, she said.

“We’re also hearing concerns about staff increases here. It’s been proven that as provincial governments shed jobs, local governments have increased jobs. The slack is taken up by municipal governments and paid for by local taxpayers. “I don’t think it’s just and I don’t think it’s sustainable.”

Marsh objected to “the offloading of federal and provincial programs and responsibilities without adequate funding or revenue”.

There have also been outright cancellations of programs by the provincial and federal governments “that are actually very much needed or expected by the public,” she said, adding that these moves are forcing municipalities to find their own ways to offer some programs locally.

In addition, Marsh pointed out, “we also often have to enforce federal and provincial regulations without compensation.”

It’s not helped by the B.C. government keeping the lion’s share of the money.

Admitting that it’s difficult to compare provinces, Marsh then said, “I don’t know why Manitoba is able to give 100 per cent of its Building Canada Fund money to local governments.”

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities announced a few years ago that there is a looming infrastructure deficit in the municipalities across the country as facilities and roads age out.

Money is now needed to meet early or unexpected breakdowns, Marsh said.

“We need to let the public know that if we’re going to be responsible for 60 per cent of infrastructure, we need more than eight cents on the dollar.

And it’s unjust for property taxpayers to pick that tab up. The property tax is actually a regressive tax. It doesn’t take into account people’s income. We all know that some seniors are having trouble; they built our community.”

Council agreed to send her motion to the UBCM convention for wider consideration.