By now everyone has received a couple of glossy brochures full of nice pictures, graphs and pie charts from the City. One brochure concerned the Strategic Plan and the other promoting our recent Budget. I have had residents question why the City would spend thousands of dollars in printing and distribution of these items. If the City believed it was important to have the residents receive this information, why could they not have put a single page insert into our power bills that go out monthly. The same information could have been distributed for only the cost of a single piece of paper without the costly production and distribution costs. The thousands spent on this exercise could have been diverted to something more worthwhile like fixing some of our streets.
A couple of things stand out when one studies these documents. As usual there are the claims of low residential taxes when compared to others, but conveniently there are a few items not factored into how they derived the numbers.
1) There is a $100 hospital charge added to our property tax which is not included in their calculations. Other jurisdictions simply funded their share of the hospital out of existing funds, where we borrowed all our funds and then added the surcharge to our tax bill.
2) We have our own power utility that contributes $5 million yearly to our tax base that other cities do not have access to.
3) Our businesses pay a higher tax rate on their properties than virtually all other cities that are showing substantial growth in populations numbers. A recent study by the CFIB indicated Swift Current charges as much as 40 per cent more in business taxes than other high population growth centres. The more taxes we charge to our business sector the lower our residential tax can be, but this becomes a trade-off of business growth versus lower residential taxes.
Instead of using residential property tax numbers for comparisons with other jurisdictions, we should be using total spending per capita. That comparison would be less open to manipulation and give a true financial picture of our financial health as compared to others. That picture would be substantially less flattering. Our residents expect and deserve a whole lot more transparency and a whole lot less spin.
The Strategic Plan document indicates we can grow our City to 25,000 by 2025 because we have lower tax and power rates. Both of those statements are questionable. Firstly our business taxes are up to 40 per cent higher than some other jurisdictions and secondly our power rates are actually higher than those of our neighbors. Businesses tend to go to where they may have the best chance for success and a large part of their decision is based on their bottom line. In order to get even close to the projected population numbers we may have to look at being a little more business friendly.
In order to have businesses relocate in Swift Current they need to know they will be coming to a city with a stable economy and have accommodations available for their staff. At present, with tax increases of 45 per cent in the past four years and a city with out of control debt and a council that seems not to be able to control its spending habits, the job of attracting new business seems daunting at best. In addition to having financial difficulties we now have no residential lots available for sale even if we could attract newcomers.
The budget document makes the assertion that we need to dream big and those dreams can become reality, but if those dreams are not based on reality they can soon become a nightmare.
Don Robinson - Swift Current