With the annual Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) convention fading into the past, local members are lamenting a lost opportunity to better leverage the portion of the gas tax earmarked for municipalities.
“I’m really disappointed that the resolution we put forward went absolutely nowhere,” said Squamish Councillor Corinne Lonsdale.
That resolution tried to redraft gas tax — revenue collected by the federal government and passed on to municipalities — spending criteria. Currently, monies gained from the tax are only available to municipalities for capital projects. Operating costs, things like running busses, for example, are not appropriate spending avenues.
“We can buy buses,” said Lonsdale, “but we haven’t got the funding to operate them.”
According to Lonsdale, the UBCM resolutions committee recommended members vote against the resolution. It was a close vote, she said, but the effort was defeated.
“I was blown away.”
Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed applauded the Squamish effort.
“Whistler has concerns about the conditions on the gas tax,” he said. “Funding operations would be an important way to improve the ability of the gas tax. I think generally we were supportive, but I’m not sure how much effect it would be at UBCM or the provincial government.”
According to Lonsdale, UBCM negotiated with federal government on behalf of member municipalities, an unusual move that sees the funds flow past the province. During those negotiations, UBCM agreed the tax should be used to assist with capital expenditures.
“Us endorsing this resolution would give UBCM the encouragement and support it would need to actually affect an amendment at the appropriate time,” said Lonsdale. “It was close, but it didn’t make it.”
Elected representatives from both Whistler and Squamish had the chance to meet with the province’s ministerial brass, another of the convention’s promised assets. Along with Squamish Councillor Patricia Heintzman, Lonsdale met with Minister of Housing and Social Development Rich Coleman. To him they took the case of emergency and transitional beds for Squamish’s homeless, plus the development of residential facilities for them to transition to when the time comes.
“We are strapped at the district,” said Lonsdale. “We have very little land, and we certainly don’t have any cash reserves. So we need the province to come to the table, B.C. housing in particular, to locate land. We would do the facilitating, any rezoning or whatever else.”
The meeting bore fruit, as a follow up has already happened. Also borne from that meeting was awareness of two provincial rent subsidy programs that usually fly beneath the public radar. One is for seniors, and the other is for families earning less than $35,000; pamphlets for both will be made available at the district hall.
Whistler also met with high-level politicians, from Pat Bell, minister of forests and range, to Bill Bennett, minister of tourism, culture and the arts. Melamed said it’s too early to know if those meetings will bear fruit, although Whistler staff are pursuing follow ups with provincial bureaucrats.
Whistler won two awards during the convention. One was for its use of wood in the new library, and the other was for the district energy system set up in the athletes’ village.
Also announced during the convention — but separate to its proceedings — was Melamed’s inclusion on the Citizens’ Conservation Council on Climate Action. Melamed finds out what the position entails on Oct. 9.