Some 368 seniors from Smithers expressed their disappointment to council, signing a petition protesting council’s decision to discontinue the seniors sewer/water exemption implemented in 1973 and asking for it to be reinstated.
Council revealed their decision to discontinue the waiver at the Smithers budget presentation last year, stating that over the next four year it would be phased out until the seniors paid 100 per cent of the fees.
“My concern is whether we will be able to remain in the community and not have to look for cheaper housing,” Arnold De Ellion said, who presented the petition to council last week in a delegation.
Many seniors are facing hard times, he stressed, living on pensions with no means of increasing the income to their homes to match the increased cost of living. Adding the $417 (2010 figures) may not mean that much to one, but to a senior, it could make the difference between staying here or leaving, De Ellion said.
While council generally doesn’t make comment at a delegation, in this case they chose to respond. Councillor Mark Bandstra, who’s also the finance chair, explained council’s reasoning, saying that costs have been steadily rising with the increasing number of seniors, to the point where the taxpayers of Smithers could no longer afford to keep it going.
The number of seniors “is 20 per cent of our residences,” Bandstra said. “And it continues to grow. The number that we exempt will grow faster than our population.”
“This hasn’t been an easy decision,” Councillor Jo Ann Groves said. “It’s been something I’ve struggled with since I was elected in 1999.”
Councillor Lorne Benson added that others may be struggling too, not just seniors. This way the expense of water and sewer will be more evenly spread out amongst taxpayers, making it more sustainable for the single mothers, low income, and other hard-hit groups.
“We respect that,” De Ellion said. “Seniors find themselves in exactly that position as we are on a fixed income.”
Mayor Cress Farrow, who had previously made the commitment that he wouldn’t reconsider exempting seniors taxes, didn’t support the decision, however the majority of council did make that decision. What he, and Councillor Norm Adomeit, who also opposed the motion, did do was make sure it was a transitional process, giving the seniors four years.
However, given that finance meetings have already been in session and approved by the finance committee, the delegation won’t change the implementation of the waiver, Farrow added.
“It’s really unfortunate, but this is the type of information we need prior to decision making … and the decision has been made,” Farrow said.