Prince George is a small city with aspirations of being big.
There is a sense we should be at least the same size as our comparators: Kelowna, Kamloops, and Nanaimo. Except, of course, we are not.
So, we don’t have the same tax-base they do and yet we need to offer similar amenities and services. Whether it is health care, schools, recreational facilities, or roads, we have needs similar to much larger cities. Particularly as we are supporting the surrounding communities.
This has many financial implications. For example, if we decide to build a new performing arts centre, the cost will be apportioned over the 30,234 households in Prince George. If Kelowna builds the same facility, they have 53,905 households to pay for it.
Simple arithmetic tells us that for a $54 million venue, it will cost $1,000 per household in Kelowna versus $1,786 per household in Prince George. On a per household basis, things cost more.
While this is a singular example, it is true for all of our services, such as the fire department, road clearing, policing, recreational facilities, etc. The cost of supplying these is comparable among these cities but our tax-base is smaller. Hence, we pay more taxes.
But this is not an argument for city council to have a free reign to hike taxes. Quite the contrary.
We need to be a lot smarter in our approach. Fixing the problem is not about expanding the Civic Centre to attract more conferences, for example. Conferences bring in more money and help out the hospitality industry but it is a short-term gain.
What Prince George needs from its city council is the vision and a plan on how to grow the local tax-base in Prince George. A plan to bring sustainable, long-term financially viable businesses to the city which will employ people, increase the number of households, and build a stronger tax-base while having a minimal impact on services.
We don’t need another call centre with minimum wage jobs which can come and go, but a move to a sustainable industrial base suited to the 21st century. And the last thing Prince George needs is a 7.58 per cent tax increase which will do nothing but drive people out of the city.
Todd Whitcombe is a chemistry professor at UNBC.