Service cutbacks, infrastructure high on agenda at BC Mayors Caucus

Chief elected officials to discuss and share thoughts on what is and isn't working in the realm of local government.

Mayors from all over the province met in Prince George last week for the twice-yearly B.C. Mayors’ Caucus. The caucus was a two-day opportunity for chief elected officials to discuss and share thoughts on what is and isn’t working in the realm of local government.

Cranbrook’s Mayor, Wayne Stetski, was one of the 70 mayors in attendance last week and said the meetings were fruitful and even included an appearance from B.C. NDP leader Adrian Dix.

Stetski said the caucus had extended invitations to all the provincial leaders, but Dix was the only one who could make it. The candidate for Premier was asked whether he would support a provincial ministry dedicated to local government.

“He said yes,” Stetski said, adding that they also asked Dix if he would be willing to meet with the caucus once a year and he said yes to that as well.

One of the biggest issues facing municipalities is the downloading of responsibilities to lower levels of government. Stetski gave the example of provincial ambulance service. As B.C. Ambulance cuts back on services to the city, it eventually comes upon the fire department, funded by the city, to field a greater number of emergency calls.

“If the provincial government cuts back on services,” he said, using mental health services as an example, “there are more people potentially on the street that are in an unhealthy condition. It’s often then the RCMP that have to deal with the problem. Municipalities largely pay, depending how big you are, for RCMP services.

“So because the province stops doing something, it costs the municipalities money.”

Stetski said another big issue was infrastructure. For every dollar a person pays in taxes, on average, 50 cents goes to the federal government, 42 cents to the provincial government and only 8 cents goes to the municipal government, but 65 per cent of infrastructure maintenance ends up being the responsibility of municipalities, Stetski said.

“To fix a road, one block in Cranbrook was often about $600,000, because you have to dig everything out and start over,” he said. “In theory we should be spending about $12 million on roads in Cranbrook. We spend $3 million currently.”

The mayors also met with the recently appointed municipal auditor general. Stetski said this is still controversial to some municipalities, as the new auditor position will cost about $2.7 million and conduct three audit sin the first year. Municipalities have to balance their budget every year, so Stetski said it may not end up being a worthwhile task.

The next B.C. Mayors Caucus will be held in September in conjunction with the Union of B.C. Municipality meeting.