Smithers Mayor, Taylor Bachrach, was in Penticton, B.C. last week for the inaugural BC Mayors’ Caucus to discuss common issues B.C. municipalities are facing today.
Responsible for providing communities with 60 per cent of their infrastructure, municipalities are feeling the pressure of services downloaded to the them by the federal and provincial governments.
Over the three-day conference, B.C. municipalities looked to forge a new deal with the provincial and federal governments to provide services their constituents expect. As Surrey Mayor, Dianne Watts put it, “The current model is broken and as Mayors we need to meet to discuss a collaborative approach.”
With over 80 mayors in attendance the inaugural meeting allowed mayors, north and south, to collaborate on solutions for common issues facing their communities.
“The caucus was a great opportunity to network with other mayors and come up with strategies to address our shared issues,” Bachrach said.
“Local government is efficient at delivering services, but the downloading of services has created challenges for us in fulfilling our mandate.”
This past year the federal government downloaded even more costs to municipalities, including a tax increase for the local RCMP detachment.
It was an unexpected surprise that municipalities have no control over.
Eliminating unconditional transfer payments from the province to local governments is just another pressing issue for communities that was discussed at length during the conference.
“It’s getting tougher to provide all the service a community wants and needs,” Mayor of Prince George, Shari Green said.
“Costs are rising and revenue sources are limited.”
Based on similar mayors’ caucuses throughout North America and Europe, B.C. mayors felt it was time to make their voices heard about the changing dynamics of their communities and the abilities to fund local projects that elevate the standard of living for all residents.
“Hopefully other orders of government will hear our unified message that the status quo relationship is not working well for our communities,” Bachrach said.
In part, municipalities find it hard to finance their work as other levels of government put more and more responsibilities on the shoulders of local officials.
However, following the BC Mayors’ Caucus, communities hope they’ve set the stage for the provincial and federal governments to take note that it’s time for a change and it starts on the local level.
“The key message is that we require a seat at the table so we can find more efficient ways of meeting our communities needs,” said Bachrach.
The current ‘grant game’ makes it hard for communities to plan for infrastructure improvements, we think there’s a better way.”