Editorial: Municipalities deserve to be heard on grants-in-lieu

Province's dismissal of request to review grants-in-lieu-of-taxed unfair

In an example of continued provincial offloading at its finest, B.C. Minister of Advanced Education Andrew Wilkinson rejected the Union of B.C. Municipalities’ request to review the current grants-in-lieu-of-taxes formula.

Prompted by a motion by Oak Bay council, the UBCM asked the province to amend the University Act so the grant formula better reflects property values and the cost of municipal services provided to universities, such as policing, fire and roads.

The UBCM motion asked the province to consider the federal system, which provides municipalities more equitable compensation. For example, Esquimalt received about $12 million this year from the federal government for the naval base within its borders.

The University of Victoria, which straddles the districts of Oak Bay and Saanich, provided Oak Bay just $55,000 in lieu of taxes this year, down from $72,000.

However, the 2016 amount reflects about 20 per cent of the costs Oak Bay incurs to service UVic, Mayor Nils Jensen contends.

The problem stems from the fact that province has not increased the pool of money distributed to universities to offset these costs. Originally, the pot was distributed among just three universities. Today there are 11.

“It’s one pie and it’s sliced thinner and thinner and thinner,” Jensen said. “It’s not just us, it’s every community that has a university.”

The fact that the minister – read the province – won’t even entertain discussions with the affected municipalities demonstrates an unwillingness to acknowledge the difficulties this presents to municipalities and their taxpayers.

Yes, at the end of the day there is only one taxpayer paying the toll at the local, provincial and federal levels.

But as municipal governments wrestle to cover those expenses often most affecting residents day to day, they deserve better from the province.

At the very least they deserve a conversation about what the province can do to live up to its obligations.

If it’s not this particular solution, then put the work in to find an alternative.