VICTORIA -- Embarking on a core services review to find out the best way to operate city business is something every municipality in the country should do, said a mayor who saw real change come from the process.
Penticton Mayor Dan Ashton said his communitys review in late 2009 to help eradicate a nearly $2 million deficit was the best thing his city has ever done.
On Monday, Ashton was one of 143 mayors from around the province who convened in Victoria for the second B.C. Mayors Caucus, prior to the official kick off of the Union of B.C. Municipalities 2012 convention. The first caucus took place in May in Penticton with 86 mayors in attendance.
As with most meetings of municipal leaders, a large portion of the conversation revolved around infrastructure.
Its not just roads. Its water, sewer, storm and buildings, said Prince George Mayor Shari Green. And its different challenges for different communities in terms of their ability to pay.
Ashton and Green, both on the 10-person steering committee, agreed the key to making any progress in terms of finding solutions was for all of the communities to work together.
We all know theres only one taxpayer, Ashton said.
Core services reviews, like the one Prince George is currently in the midst of, are painful exercises, said Green. But theyre a necessary evil.
And I think you will find many communities are watching Prince George and certainly watched Penticton, and the reality is I dont think they have a choice, Green said. They cant continue to just raise taxes and continue to see costs rise and not be able to defend the state of their financial books.
But despite knowing where a local government stands doesnt mean there cant be some negotiation with other levels of government.
Prior to the meeting, Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development Bill Bennett cited the two cities as those that are doing well in terms of managing their expenses, but there is no extra money in the provincial coffers to relieve the pressure.
We dont have a lot of money at this point, Bennett told the Canadian Press. I wont be saying, Youre wasting your time, theres no money. What Ill be saying is, We want to understand what your needs are. We want to understand what your challenges are. Then well try to help people solve their problems.
Ashton said city leaders have heard this message loud and clear. Were not asking for more money, he said, noting the dollars the city is spending are coming from the countrys taxpayers.
Those arent our dollars. Weve taken those dollars in trust from somebody else and we are charged to spend those wisely, he said.
One of the ways municipal leaders are trying to spend wisely is by piggybacking the mayors meeting onto the larger UBCM event.
Over the weekend, Prince George Coun. Brian Skakun posted on Facebook his concern that the caucus is somewhat exclusive to the rest of the convention.
To have the Mayors Caucus start at the beginning of the UBCM convention might save some travel costs but it also sends a message to the UBCM in my opinion that they are not doing enough to advance local issues and is a shot across the bow, if you will, Skakun wrote. There was no reason the Mayors Caucus could not have happened at a different time.
Green said, This is a strong voice from within UBCM, not instead of.
She also noted that unlike the one for regional district chairs, there is no UBCM-organized meeting for mayors.
For us not to be talking to each other as peers would be totally irresponsible, Green said.
And long overdue, Ashton added.
The next B.C. Mayors Caucus will convene in Prince George in the spring.