By David F. Rooney
The Chamber of Commerce, angered by tax hikes and what it perceives as a real threat to the survival of independent businesses in Revelstoke, came out swinging Tuesday with a demand that Council slash City spending even if it means laying off municipal employees.
“Think about this town a year from now without La Baguette, Crescendo, Areaworx, Chantilly and Mountain Meals,” lawyer Tom Kent told Council in front of a gallery packed with 21 business owners.
Kent, who was representing the new Governance Committee that the Chamber established to help it come up with alternatives to what some believe is sky-high spending by Council, said “these are the kind of businesses that make this town special.”
“This town has so much going for it and if we’re not careful we’re going to blow it,” he said, conjuring up a bleak vision of a future Revelstoke in which business is reduced to the existing grocery stores and a few chain operations like the 7-Eleven.
The City’s high rate of business taxation threatens the continued existence of a lively and prosperous independent business community, he said pointing to the fact that in 2009 business taxes here were 6.65 times as high as property taxes. The provincial average is just 2.94 times.
“You need to cut your budget across the board,” said Kent, who was standing in for Chamber Director Brydon Roe who was out of town on business. “People will have to be laid off. I don’t see any other way around it.”
He said the Chamber wants to work with the City to make this as gentle as possible and suggested three steps that might be undertaken. The Chamber can:
- Review the City’s budget and provide “specific and realistic recommendations for cost cutting;”
- Provide specific recommendations for increasing top-line revenue to the City by increasing visitors and encouraging development; and
- Lobby the BC Assessment Authority to lower its assessments of commercial properties.
“We think that if you don’t start addressing these issues right away things will only get worse,” he said. “We want to work with you but the leadership has to come from your table.”
City Councillors appeared solemn and listened carefully to Kent. They have been aware for some time that the business community has reached the end of its rope regarding taxation and spending. And it appeared that they want to find a solution that works for everyone.
“I will look forward to working with the Chamber,” said Councillor Chris Johnston.
His comment was echoed, one way or another, by the rest of Council and it fell to Phil Welock to suggest that the Chamber and Council each nominate three members to sit on a special committee or commission to look at what can be done. This body should also include a member of the City’s senior staff, perhaps the soon to be selected new Chief Administrative Officer or Finance Director Graham Inglis.
“To be fair, it should also include three members of the residential property tax sector,” Welock said.
Mayor David Raven said the tough question will be how to address the spending issue.
“There’s no question that spending has to be trimmed,” he said.