B.C. mayors are demanding a new deal with senior governments to address the growing financial squeeze on their cities, but they deny they have their hands out for any new streams of cash.
Instead, they emerged Friday from the first B.C. Mayors Caucus in Penticton with a list of priorities they want addressed, from recognition of the rising pressure on cities to provide more service – often due to government downloading – to the need for more consistent and predictable long-term delivery of federal and provincial grants.
“We’re not asking for new money,” Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts said.
“We’re saying let’s use existing resources more efficiently and effectively.”
That may mean persuading the province or federal government to allocate more of what they collect in taxes to the cities, preferably through long-term agreements.
Too often, Watts said, cities have stepped up to cover off services that have been downloaded by Ottawa or Victoria without receiving any contributions.
Social service delivery is a particular mess, she said, adding there’s some duplication in what’s provided by both cities and senior governments, and service gaps in other areas.
Surrey has faced higher costs helping immigrants integrate.
Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan said cities have also been pressed by the province to help provide social housing, usually by contributing land.
“Municipalities are saying ‘When did it become our responsibility to provide social housing?’” he said.
“We need a clear delineation of our responsibilities.”
Cities have enough money to provide core services, Corrigan added.
“The problem is we’re obligated to take on so many other duties in trying to make our communities livable and safe.”
The manifesto released by 86 mayors does include some references to funding.
It says government downloading of services must be accompanied by a sustainable revenue source.
It also demands B.C.’s new Auditor General for Local Government probe not just the value for money in city budgets but also examine the question of government downloading.
“We’re saying that’s fine, fly at it,” Watts said of the municipal auditor, which many cities opposed last year.
“But you need to expand the mandate and look at the impact that downloading has had on municipal budgets.”
Prince Rupert mayor Jack Mussallem said he was happy with the results from the first meeting.
“It was significant that this group, which represented every corner of the province and every size of community from large to small, was coming together for the first time and acknowledging the concept of joint economic development on a community by community level. We saw a spirit of economic cooperation rather than economic competition,” says he said.
Watts is on the B.C. Mayors’ Caucus steering committee, along with counterparts from Port Coquitlam, Victoria, Smithers, Fort St. John, Cranbrook, Prince Rupert, Prince George and Penticton.