By on January 30, 2013

It’s a sure sign that spring is not too far off when local municipalities find themselves in the midst of budget deliberations. Osoyoos town council and the board of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen (RDOS) have been engaged in meetings recently to hammer out priorities. Both have also invited input and questions from the public.
A draft RDOS budget is available online and area residents were invited to drop by the Legion Hall in Osoyoos last week for a consultation meeting – though very few attended. Council and board members have difficult decisions to make as they try to strike the right balance between keeping taxes down and maintaining support for the services the community needs to prosper and enjoy a good quality of life.
Last year in Osoyoos, council decided to freeze taxes in order to spare property owners from an economic hit at a time of a slow economy.
As a one-time measure, this provided welcome relief, but it would be foolish for residents to expect this every year, and unwise for council to attempt it.
Too many communities in Canada have allowed their infrastructure and services to deteriorate as they attempt to hold down taxes.
This can become a vicious cycle as crumbling infrastructure becomes a deficit in itself and the community becomes a less desirable place to live or for businesses to locate.
It’s true that municipalities don’t have the same revenue sources that senior levels of government can access.
For the most part, cities and towns rely on taxing property owners, along with whatever grants provincial and federal governments may extend to them.
This is a long-term challenge that all municipal governments face, but for now they have to live with it.
Putting money aside for the future when a local government is able is a prudent thing to do. It allows for long-term planning, and it helps to cushion ratepayers from abrupt increases in taxes. Many would agree that it makes sense to put money into reserves now for future capital projects such as a hospital expansion or other major facilities.
Putting aside money from taxpayers today for future operating expenses, however, such as covering increased policing costs down the road, is more controversial.
Some argue it helps to cushion ratepayers from a sharp tax increase in the future. Others argue that annual operating expenses should be raised in the year they are needed, on a pay-as-you-go basis.
The broad brushstrokes of the budgets are now in place, and many of the costs are beyond the control of local elected officials.
Nonetheless, some key decisions still need to be made and our elected officials can’t operate in a vacuum. Those of us who live in the community and pay for local government and services have a responsibility to inform ourselves and provide input. If you don’t speak up now, don’t be disappointed later when you get your tax notice or when you discover a service you care about has been discontinued.

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