I read an article or byline the other day that really annoyed me. It was written by Matteus Clement, Area C director for the Cowichan Valley Regional District and involved the justification for a 6.5 per cent tax increase for rate payers of Cobble Hill.
Mr. Clement bases his rationale for the tax increase on the comments that he received during his campaign for office in 2015 and feedback that he has received during his attendance of various community events. This is well and good, and I applaud Mr. Clement for seeking out and listening to the opinions of his constituents. He speaks of the people’s wishes to have a safe, vibrant, and resilient community — all very reasonable goals. He also speaks of undertaking some strategic planning for the community. Again, a very good thing to do.
The problem that I have is that it appears that Mr. Clement is reverting to slush fund politics of years gone by, collecting money before actually determining project priorities and cost estimates. Although some of the projects identified, e.g. landscape maintenance of the community park and widening of road shoulders for walking/cycling pathways seem like good ideas, I think it would prudent to complete the plan, identify priorities, and forecast some reasonably accurate construction costs before collecting the taxpayers hard earned money.
The idea of collecting the funding in advance through tax increases, without a concrete proposal or plan, is both disturbing and in my view, somewhat sloppy budgeting procedures that can lead to a lack of accountability.
For example, Mr. Clement did not indicate the total dollar value of the tax increase and when you combine that with the lack of any project priorities and cost projections, how do we know what is even possible? So if Mr. Clement collects what is possibly a significant pool of money and then sets priority on its use based on what can be achieved, the tendency will be to complete projects that are affordable, not necessarily the priority.
Widening of roads for bike and walking paths may be a priority for some locations but may have costs outside funding and budget amounts due to significant engineering and drainage issues, and as a result low priority projects that are not of importance or relevance to the greater community may get funded and completed because of the availability of funds and desire to spend some of the project dollars available.
The idea of rolling unused fund into subsequent fiscal years with the intent of reducing taxes in the future or offset future tax increases is noble, but not realistic. I appreciate the need to have some discretionary funds available to take advantage of leveraging opportunities for grants and other government funding but we still need to plan and prioritize projects, and forecast budget requirements in advance of collecting taxes. We do not want to move toward a slush fund mentality where regional governments have the ability to collect tax dollars and spend them without proper planning and budgeting processes.
If you agree with me and support this point of view, please let Mr. Clement know.