A taxpayer and his money are not soon parted. So it takes a bold politician to suggest that taxes are a good idea. That’s just what Mayor Mel Rothenburger did. He recently quoted a study that says “in fact, there’s evidence to suggest that cities with the highest levels of taxation are, in many cases, the most progressive, healthiest and economically secure.”
The study is by John M. Eger professor of Public Policy at San Diego State University in California who goes on to say “the successful cities and metro areas of the 21 st century will stimulated by their attractiveness to young, talented people.”
This flies in the face of conventional wisdom that says the way to attract business is to lower taxes. The trouble with this plan is that other cities also lower taxes in competition. It quickly becomes a race to the bottom which no one wins.
What brings business is young, talented people. And what brings people to the city is amenities, like art, music, education, sports, parks, trails, lakes, fishing, golf, and river recreation.
Kamloops already has a unique, natural beauty and a mild, dry climate. We already have many attractive amenities. Those include UCC, a good hospital and health facilities, the art gallery, our symphony, professional theatre, and a lively arts scene.
If we attract talented people to Kamloops then business will follow. And businessmen and women are like the people they hire – – they also look for attractive features in a city.
An example of this “people first” strategy is the move of Nav Canada to Kamloops. Employees of the Flight Information Centre chose Kamloops as a place to live and that prompted Nav Canada built their new facility here.
Private developers help, but only the city can build the kind of public facilities and common spaces on a scale that make a significant impact. Businesses can build facilities but they eventually serve the interests of shareholders. We are the shareholders in Kamloops and public development serves us and our future.
The City of Kamloops hopes to develop the concept of the Tournament Capital of Canada through an ambitious sports complex plan. Voters will go to the polls on Saturday to decide on borrowing money to build the proposed facilities.
Anything that involves even a modest tax increase is a hard sell. Taxpayers are suspicious of governments. There is a sector of voters who feel that governments are conspiring, with wild and harebrained schemes, to take their money.
Kamloopsians, like all British Columbians, have a love-hate relationship with taxes. According to an Ipsos-Reid poll taken one year ago, two-thirds (67%) of BC residents think they are getting a good value for the taxes they pay to their local municipality.
But when asked how they feel about tax increases for new services or to maintain current ones, they are more ambivalent. Half (47%) said they don’t mind higher taxes, while half (47%) would prefer to maintain taxes even if it meant a reduction in services.
Saturday’s vote is complicated. It requires a decision on more than spending tax dollars, or attracting talented people with amenities. Some see the sports complex proposal as a way of developing local athletics and attracting high caliber athletes from across Canada. For others, it’s seen as part of UCC’s promotion to be known as a university.
The linkage of marketing for the City of Kamloops and UCC produces a powerful message. UCC already advertises Kamloops as a student-friendly, safe, city. The sports complex, if approved, would not only attract people to Kamloops, it would attract students to UCC. It makes sense for Kamloops and UCC to team up on marketing.
The idea of sports compliments a healthy, fit, outdoor lifestyle that Kamloops can rightfully claim. Even for those who are not involved in sports, fitness has strong appeal for those considering a move to Kamloops.
Prudent tax spending on public facilities is a sensible expenditure. The use of tax money to build the future of our city is based on sound business principles. It’s a principle that developers of shopping centers use but on a bigger scale. First, build an attractive facility that will attract customers. Business will rent space because customers are coming.
It all starts with attracting people.