Lillooet is looking to take a bigger bite out of the Squamish Lillooet Regional District’s (SLRD) piggy bank, a move local councillors say will eat into Squamish residents’ wallets.
In an attempt to cover the cost of upgrading its crumbling infrastructure, the District of Lillooet is seeking a larger chunk of the SLRD’s annual provincial payments in lieu of taxation (PILT) for B.C. Hydro projects. Every year, Victoria dishes out more than $1 million for government-owned, tax-exempt infrastructure throughout the corridor.
Lillooet has reached a “critical point in its history,” Mayor Dennis Bontron wrote in a letter to the SLRD. The town is “faced with a structural financial deficit which cannot be addressed from current funding sources,” he wrote.
To cover the shortfall, Lillooet is seeking 40 per cent of the approximately $750,000 in PILT money the SLRD receives for the Bridge River and La Joie hydro stations — an estimated $300,000. This year, Lillooet, which is the closest community to the projects, was handed less than $25,000 from the SLRD’s PILT.
“It is the view of the District of Lillooet that this allocation is patently unfair and not consistent with provincial government’s policy direction for allocation of the B.C. Hydro grant,” Bontron wrote, noting that a portion of the money goes toward offsetting costs incurred as the service centre for the northern area of the region.
The hole left in the SLRD’s general governance account would land an estimated $50,199 bill on Squamish taxpayers’ doorsteps, Squamish councillor and SLRD director Patricia Heintzman said. District residents would see their portion of regional district payments jump from $42,039 to $92,199. Whistler’s share would jump by an even greater sum.
Whistler and Squamish already pay the lion’s share of SLRD expense, she noted, with the resort municipality covering 70 per cent of the regional district’s costs and Squamish paying between 25 and 27 per cent.
Tax-rate increases to pay for Lillooet’s infrastructure didn’t fly with Squamish Coun. Ron Sander. PILT essentially represents property tax going into the SLRD machine, he said at council’s Committee of the Whole meeting on Dec. 4.
“I don’t think that is appropriate,” Sander said of the request, noting Squamish councillors’ duty was to look after its citizens.
Coun. Susan Chapelle said she would need to see Lillooet’s business plan to upgrade its infrastructure before she committed to any change, but wasn’t entirely against the idea.
“I can see a one-time fund for emergency infrastructure,” she said.
It’s not as simple as saying take the money, Coun. Doug Race said. Race, who is also a SLRD director, noted Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden is not in favour of raising regional taxes.
“This is still an outstanding issue with the regional district,” he said.
The shift would affect the District of Squamish officials’ decision making, Mayor Rob Kirkham said.
“At our level, it also ripples through to a budget discussion,” he said.
If the SLRD directors don’t get behind Lillooet’s recommendation, the District of Lillooet is threatening to create satellite boundaries around the Bridge River hydro operations, securing the majority of the PILT payments for itself, Heintzman noted. However, that’s not a guaranteed move, as the provincial government isn’t keen to redraw the lines.
“It would be a uphill battle for them to get that boundary expansion,” Heintzman said.
The boundary changes would mark the collapse of the SLRD, Area D Director Moe Freitag told The Chief.
“We are already running on a shoestring,” he said.
An inevitable tax increase would follow, which Frietag said would prompt him to ask his constituents whether they would want to break away from the SLRD.
“I would look at putting in for incorporation, which would get us right out of it,” he said.