To the editor:
It took less time than I thought it would to discover that voters were lied to in the recent rail purchase referendum in Lake Country. The sad thing is that The Daily Courier helped to sell the lie by stating in articles several times a week for the months prior to the referendum that the cost of 1.68 per cent tax being applied worked out to only $27 per year for 20 years for a house valued at $475,000, so the total paid would merely be $540. Sounds pretty cheap and it was what the electorate voted in favour of, I stated from the beginning that I could accept what the majority voted for so long as it went to referendum so all could have a voice but what we got is not what the majority voted in favour of. We did get the purchase but at a far higher price than what was put forth for approval on the ballot. Unfortunately our municipal officials did not apply the special 1.68 per cent tax levy that was approved in the manner they told us it would when they presented their case, the result being that Lake Country tax payers will be paying a far higher amount for this special purchase than what our officials stated when seeking the loan approval.
When the tax notices came out I, as did many other residents expected to see this special referendum approved tax assessment itemized showing what the 1.68 per cent was on my property expressed as a dollar amount. We endured an already approved 3.46 per cent increase and this 1.68 per cent for the rail purchase was sold to the voters saying it would be a charge based on the existing 2014 tax base of your property and that dollar amount would then be applied each year for 20 years, that amount would be stable and not increase in future years. The mayor and some news reporters led us to believe that this special tax assessment would disappear after 20 years, isn’t that what $27 per year for 20 years implies?
Instead what we got was the 1.68 per cent being bundled with the 3.46 per cent for a total increase of 5.14 per cent, this creates your new tax base so going forward every time there is a per centage tax increase, which is pretty well every year, your original $27 ( this for easy figuring as homes valued higher pay more ) will increase by that per centage. If we only have annual increases of 3 per cent and your homes assessed value never increases ( it already did this year ) by the time we get to year 20, the $27 annual payment will have increased to $48.76, the owner of that $475,000 home will have paid a minimum of $721.50 and not the $540 as we were repeatedly told by the mayor and a few news reporters.
Being as how the 1.68 per cent got bundled into your tax base and property assessments increase periodically, by the time year 20 comes along the waters will have been muddied enough it would take a forensic accountant to determine exactly what this $27 per year for 20 years will have truly cost you and that cost will not stop just because the loan will have been paid off, instead that payment will continue forever.
I recently sent an email to Lake Country Municipal Hall asking why the special assessment for this approval was not itemized as are school taxes, once again what we were led to believe during the referendum was that after year 20 the loan would be paid off for this special purchase and that item and cost would then disappear off our taxes. My letter was addresses to Council, instead someone there routed it to Rose Bronswyk Kassa, Lake Country chief financial officer who replied, “ Whenever you have an increased demand for taxes we try to estimate the tax increase. As you outlined, the rail corridor needed more taxation which we estimated to be 1.68 per cent more taxation, once your budget goes up to accommodate this increase it then becomes the new base budget,” This did not address the question I asked and it was not the responsibility of a municipal employee to explain why council chose to apply the 1.68 per cent in a manner other than what was put forward for approval in the recent referendum.
Remember, this is only the first half of the loan, Lake Country did borrow $2.5 million from Kelowna and that loan is interest free for three years but then the shoe drops and as stated in the MOI (contract) with Kelowna they want to be reimbursed as soon as possible. This begs the question that as it is illegal for one city or municipality to borrow or lend from another how the provincial department responsible to monitor such activities allowed a play in wording to circumvent the law, it seems the enforcement here is similar to the bike helmet law and distracted driving laws which don’t get enforced to the degree they should be.
Mayor Baker, there is a simple fix: On next years’ tax notice and for future notices break out the 1.68 per cent and itemize it. That way we can all clearly see for the next 20 years that the amount does not escalate beyond what was approved ( $27 a year for 20 years ) and of course after year 20 the assessment fee would be dropped, if you want to be transparent and honest it shouldn’t be a problem but that is a big IF.
Hopefully the taxpayers learn a lesson and the next time our mayor seeks approval to borrow for a specific item which will be coming in the very near future ( fire hall ) we refuse to approve unless the ballot question clearly states that the special loan approval is special and as such is itemized on out tax notices and the approved tax levy for the project will be dropped at the end of the loan term required to fund the project. It is how this last purchase was sold but certainly not how it is being delivered.
Wouldn’t it be refreshing if our politicians did as they promised ?
Guy Bissonette, Lake Country