It was an amazing and unexpected response to what should have been an anticipated question at the May 4 Port McNeill budget meeting.
Coun. Ryan Mitchell had just introduced a motion to raise taxes on local businesses to 80 per cent of the allowable maximum and Coun. Ann-Marie Baron wanted to know what the extra tax money was for.
It was a necessary question, as under the various regulations governing municipal finances, a council can’t increase taxes simply because they want to. It is not only frowned upon, but increases without a reason are not allowed.
So Baron wanted to know, “What’s the money for?” and “Why are we doing this?”
Mitchell responded quickly, stating that business taxes were, “unduly low and the tax increase for residents far exceeds anything that industry is paying.”
It was the answer most were expecting but as Baron began asking her follow-up question, about what additional services would be provided as a result of any increase, Mitchell interrupted and showing obvious frustration, confessed, “I have no idea!”
Mitchell didn’t stop there and explained: “Just like we’re allowed to raise residential taxes for absolutely no reason and we did it. We had absolutely no reason to raise them, so I think if we’re going to raise them on private people then I think we should raise them on industry and business.”
Mitchell had, in that brief exchange, accused the town council, the one he too sits on, of raising residential taxes on a willy-nilly basis, without reason, forethought or oversight.
Now I should point out that I have a special place for municipal politics, especially in smaller towns, as it is the one place where democracy, as we’d like to see it, still has a foothold.
By their nature, local governments must operate in a very open, community driven type model that comes closest to meeting that idealistic standard of, ”Government of the people, by the people, for the people…”
So I was disappointed to hear this exchange and surprised to hear an elected official telling residents that the foundation upon which property taxes are determined and disbursed was, in essence, a sham.
Ignoring the obvious preventive and independent safeguards, reporting and regulatory oversight built into the process, the small town aspect makes secrets, conspiracies and behind closed doors double-dealing a hard act to pull off.
Government and those who govern need to build trust and when one’s words convince even just one person that town finances are fictitious constructions, built upon callous disregard, you begin a journey where the way home can be quickly and forever lost.
There is little left in this world that can’t be compromised and corrupted but I like to think and I still believe that small towns such as Port McNeill have not and will not reach the level of misconduct that was implied at that budget meeting.
* Editors Note – Bill McQuarrie reached out to Mitchell for comment but did not hear back from him prior to going to press. The full version of the meeting can be watched on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AnCej-PlVuc
Bill McQuarrie is a former publisher, photojournalist and entrepreneur. Semi-retired and now living in Port McNeill, you can follow him on Instagram #mcriderbc or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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