TNRD denies motion looking to use reserve funds to provide rural tax relief

'Divisive' tax cut rejected

Rural residents of the Thompson-Nicola Regional District will not see a tax break this year after a failed attempt by an electoral area director to use reserve funds to ease their financial burden — an effort described as "divisive" by another board member.

Area J (Copper Desert Country) director Mike Grenier put forward a motion last week calling for $575,000 to be taken from a reserve fund and used in the provisional budget to drop the tax increase for electoral areas from 8.3 per cent to three per cent.

The motion, however, was defeated by a 22-5 vote, and did not have the full support of all 10 electoral area directors.

Area N (Beautiful Nicola Valley South) director Herb Graham, Area M (Beautiful Nicola Valley North) alternate director Andrea Inward, Area E (Bonaparte Plateau) director Jim Smith, Area L (Grasslands) director Doug Haughton and Grenier voted in favour of the motion.

Grenier told Castanet Kamloops that despite the motion failing he feels the issue of tax relief has now caught the TNRD’s attention, and he hopes to be successful in advocating for it in future years.

“You got to step up to the plate and swing the bat,” Grenier said.

He said the amount he was seeking was just a small portion of the reserve, which would be replenished, and even smaller compared to the TNRD’s overall reserves.

“This motion acknowledges what EA [electoral area] constituents are dealing with now and it provides meaningful property tax relief,” Grenier told the board prior to the vote.

Motion seen as unfair

The knock against Grenier’s motion repeated by many in the TNRD boardroom was that it pitted cities against rural electoral areas, when directors from each should be acting like a team. The tax was also viewed by many as short term relief that would need to be made up over the long term.

The motion requested dipping into a $2.7-million reserve fund within the development services department, justified by high inflation and the fact a large chunk of the reserve is funded by electoral area taxation.

Grenier said he chose that reserve as it was the only one electoral area directors fund exclusively via taxation.

The reserve, however, receives contributions from all member cities in the form of fees and contracts, CAO Scott Hildebrand told Castanet Kamloops.

“A short term fix using everybody's money to pay for a tax saving for a select group of people within this TNRD I think that's an unfortunate choice,” Clearwater Mayor Merlin Blackwell said.

Kamloops Coun. Bill Sarai said he felt taxpayers had to be looked at equally, noting it wouldn’t be fair if, for example, electoral area residents started getting charged specific user rates for public pools and ice rinks in Kamloops.

“We should wait until the budget comes out and see where the savings are,” Sarai said of a tax decrease.

Area A (Wells Grey Country) director Usoff Tsao said that while he agreed with giving taxpayers back surpluses, he felt it needed to be applied evenly across the TNRD.

“If we move forward with this we will make it very difficult for municipal directors and explain why us EAs got this benefit,” Tsao said.

Grenier later suggested spreading the tax break across the TNRD before the vote.

Kamloops councillor threatens funding

Earlier in the meeting, Kamloops Coun. Mike O’Reilly said he would make a motion to have the City of Kamloops withhold a $250,000 contribution the municipality makes to the TNRD's planning services if Grenier’s motion went through, adding he had “overwhelming support” from Kamloops city council to approve such a motion.

Mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson told Castanet Kamloops O’Reilly did not consult with him regarding withholding funds from the TNRD.

O’Reilly described Grenier’s motion as “divisive.”

“When I hear there's financial hardships and large tax increases — that's the same across the board. It's the same in the City of Kamloops,” O’Reilly said.

Hamer-Jackson told Grenier people are struggling across the TNRD, noting there are hundreds of people homeless in Kamloops.

“We got to look at the TNRD as a whole, us as directors as a whole,” Hamer-Jackson said.

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