British Columbia

Cities need more power to balance their budgets, says urban consultant

Gaetan Royer, former Port Moody city manager and president of CityState Consulting, says provincial and federal governments hold B.C. municipalities back from raising more money.

Former city manager says senior governments treat municipalities like 'children'

Dawson Creek in northeastern B.C. is making some tough decisions as it tries to cut more than $1 million from its next budget. (Dawson Creek Chamber of Commerce)

A city manager turned urban consultant says some B.C. municipalities are struggling to balance their budgets because they need more financial independence from senior governments.

Gaetan Royer, former city manager for Port Moody and now president of CityState Consulting Group, says provincial and federal governments restrict the ways municipalities raise money.

Two northern B.C. cities have been hard hit. Dawson Creek city council is considering cutting RCMP positions to save money, even though there has been a rise in property crime. Meanwhile, Prince George city council wants to borrow $32 million to pay for city repairs.

"Everything that the municipality does is subject to rules that are set by the provincial government, and to a large extent, by the federal government," he said. 

"The ability to raise revenue is determined by the province ... and the tools are very limited. They are limited to property taxes ... fees and charges."

Struggling cities

A 2014 report co-authored by Royer found that municipal governments are taking on more responsibilities without increased funding.

Gaetan Royer thinks municipalities should have more financial independence from other levels of government. (Submitted by Gaetan Royer)

"I think a lot of it has to do with the way that our government levels are structured and the fact that municipalities are treated like children," Royer told Daybreak North host Carolina de Ryk.

Instead, he thinks cities should be able to raise more revenues and not depend on the provincial government for grants. 

"The fact that the province decides at one point through a grant system to be magnanimous and provide money to certain communities and not to others is not an appropriate way to run a government."

Funds for projects

Royer points to cities like New York that have access to income tax, a hotel tax and other forms of taxation. They have more independence because they can make decisions locally.

"It also allows for resources to be flowing in a more continuous level, in a more regular fashion that is tied to how well the economy is doing," said Royer.

Royer would prefer to see funds from higher levels of government allocated to cities on a per capita basis, or in relation to specific projects. 

Municipal governments provide the most direct services to residents of any government, he added.  

"If your smoke detector is triggered, you're going to have a million-dollar truck pulling out of the fire hall coming with five trained people on board to come in to rush to help you. Which government ever does that?"

In an effort to save money, Dawson Creek is looking at cutting library services and RCMP officers. Meanwhile, Prince George is aiming to borrow over $30 million to repair civic buildings, a move that has sparked a backlash from some taxpayers. Gaetan Royer is a civic consultant who says the issue in both cases is the way public money is distributed in Canada, and he thinks changing the constitution may be the way to solve the issue. 11:29

with files from Daybreak North


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