Letter: Will taxpayers have to ante up for rail/trail?

With our municipality carrying a current $11 million debt load—will Lake Country have to borrow $4 million-$5 million for its share?

To the editor:

Prior to the municipal election I sent James Baker an email suggesting that he make purchasing the CN Rail line an election issue stating that if elected he would borrow money to contribute to this purchase.

It would have acted similar to a referendum and, had he still been elected, it would have indicated that a majority was at least not opposed to enduring a property tax increase forever to accommodate the purchase. Had he not been elected it would have indicated a majority was opposed to this purchase. I’m guessing out of fear of not being re-elected on this issue he chose to not make it an election issue and continued with the behind-the-scenes negotiating.

Now, less than a month after the municipal election he has stated that Lake Country’s share in this needless purchase—with our municipality carrying a current $11 million debt load—will have to borrow between $4 million and $5 million for its share. This same municipality openly declares that there is no money in the budget to repair and upgrade many miles of roads to meet current safety standards so that its residents can commute in a safer manner each and every day.

James Baker is being led down the garden path by his big brother in Kelowna. The population of Lake Country is 12,000 while Kelowna has a population of 106,710 which is roughly nine times as many residents. As well Kelowna has a far larger industrial and commercial base that they collect taxes from.

In Kelowna some of the rail line goes through industrial land that they can sell off portions to offset their contribution while the same cannot be said for Lake Country.

Even taking the latter out of the equation simple arithmetic would indicate that Kelowna should be paying nine times the amount that Lake Country is expected to contribute so that Kelowna residents carry the same per person burden as those in Lake Country.

The numbers being floated certainly indicate the sting of this purchase will be felt far greater for Lake Country taxpayers as opposed to those in Kelowna.

Wake up James Baker—you’re being had. We are not a big city as is Kelowna and cannot afford the same level of non-essential purchases just as regular people cannot afford the same life style as professional hockey players.

If there is to be any economic benefits due to increased tourism, which I seriously doubt, those tourists would be far more likely to be spending their dollars in Kelowna as they have numerous upscale restaurants, hotels and night life that our sleepy hollow does not.

A simple analogy would be that of a family that is having a hard time meeting their mortgage payments and putting groceries on the table who are considering purchasing a motor home because it’s on sale at a great price. A deal is only a deal if you can afford it even if it’s a so-called once in a life time opportunity.

If we can’t afford to repair our roads how do you make a sensible case to purchase a hiking trail that we have all managed to live without up to now? Simply put, we as a municipality can’t afford this purchase. Let Kelowna purchase and own the whole trail, they are in a far better financial position to do so. We don’t have to keep up with the Jones.

James Baker, I implore you to rethink this, don’t put Lake Country residents into debt for something we do not need while we have needs that we cannot afford. It’s too easy to spend other people’s money and when you sign on that line for a big loan you are taking on debt for 12,000 people now and for generations to come that have not been consulted on this, can your conscious live with that ?

If you still feel compelled to go ahead, at the very least put this to a referendum and not the less than democratic alternate approval process. As city hall you have the personnel and resources to organize a vote and should not try to ram this purchase through by forcing individuals to bear the cost and energy to put this question to your constituents for you.

If city hall cannot afford the cost of a referendum we most certainly can’t afford the cost of this purchase.

We all know that voter apathy is high, especially at the municipal level but at least a referendum would clearly indicate what the majority of those who care enough about our community to come out and cast a vote is. Let the majority have a voice, isn’t that what democracy is all about?

If you are concerned that a referendum would vote this purchase down and don’t have one then you are knowingly going ahead with a purchase and passing on debt to constituents that don’t want it—shame on you.

Should the majority be in favour, council should negotiate a more equitable share in this purchase, you don’t have to allow Kelowna to dictate the terms.

Population wise, fair would be Kelowna $16 million, Lake Country $2 million and Vernon/Coldstream $4 million.

 

Guy Bissonette, Lake Country

 

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