Recent History – 1999
Nov. 4, 1999
By Mark Nielsen, Daily News Staff
Tax rates and what should be done about them was a major theme when mayoral candidates Blair Lekstrom and Bill Kusk took the stage Monday at an all-candidates meeting.
Kusk, who was the mayor for three years until Lekstrom defeated him in 1996, promised a 10 per cent cut in the tax rate for all homeowners and businesses and then to freeze taxes for two years.
“We still have some of the highest property taxes in B.C. in relation to what we receive from our money,” said Kusk.
He said the money to cover the reduction would come from the city’s allotment of funds from the Fair Share agreement, which totaled $3.8 million in 1998-99.
Lekstrom said he’s committed to lowering the tax rate but is not committed to promising a 10 per cent reduction.
Relying on Fair Share is too risky, he said, because the agreement could be cancelled tomorrow.
Instead, Lekstrom said he would concentrate on attracting new business, industry, and residents which would broaden the tax base, and lower the rate that way.
“I think that’s the responsible way in which to address high taxes,” he said.
About 160 people showed up for the forum, organized by the Dawson Creek and District Chamber of Commerce and moderated by Bob Haugen.
In all, the public at the Kiwanis Performing Arts Centre heard from 15 candidates for council, three for school board, two for Peace River Regional District electoral area A, and three for mayor.
The city’s debt was also a topic.
Kusk noted that during 1993-96 when he was mayor, the city’s total liability was reduced by $5 million, in two years under Lekstrom, 1997-98, that total went up by $9.2 million.
He also noted that it costs the taxpayers $2.4 million to service the city’s debt while promising to reduce the debt and advocating a no borrowing policy for the 10-year duration of Fair Share.
Lekstrom said it was no secret that the city had to incur debt during the time he’s been mayor but the only debt that has risen is the water utility debt.
He said the money was used to deal with a series of problems with the R.S. Trail reservoir, the Parkhill pumphouse, the Kiskatinaw pumphouse, and the water line.
“The time had come that we had to address an issue that probably could’ve been dealt with 10 years ago, but because of certain circumstances, it couldn’t be done,” he said. “The time was now, and we had to do it.
“And I think that’s a big part of why we’re seeing the sustainable growth that we now have. We have a water supply system that can now maintain that level.” (City treasurer Ian Eggertson has said that between 1996 and 1998, the debt actually decreased from about $13.9 million to $12.7 million but is projected to rise to $15.4 million by the end of 1999).
Lekstrom also advocated a city savings plan, and promised to work with council to put aside $300,000 fund each year for contingencies. Moreover, he said the money should come from the Fair Share revenue, not taxpayers’ pockets.
Mayoral candidate David Twombly, meanwhile, fired off a list of promises and ideas ranging from fighting the high cost of gasoline to preventing the loss of Safeway from ruining remaining Dawson Mall tenants.
About 160 people showed up for the meeting, held at the Kiwanis Performing Arts Centre. In all, they heard from 16 candidates for council, three for school board, two for Peace River Regional District electoral area A, and three for mayor.
In response to a question about holding meetings in the evenings when more of the public can attend, Kusk said there are problems simply because council members must face a two or three hour council meeting after a day’s work.
“It really becomes tiring,” he said. “You see other in other places where they get into fights, nothing like that has ever happened in Dawson Creek, so I would prefer to keep them during the day.”
Lekstrom said a trial period of one meeting a month at night and the other during the day would be the best way to test the response.
Twombly said the public could meet with him anytime it wants.