Last year, when Rossland city council began discussing the hard financial choices that lie ahead for the City of Rossland, Janice Nightingale took notice, and started asking questions. She eventually took it upon herself to conduct a comparative municipal study — comparing Rossland to its geographic cohorts and other BC resort municipalities — at no cost to the City of Rossland. The result is a 46-page report that Nightingale presented to council on Nov. 28, in hopes that they would think twice before cutting funding for community services and facilities in order to keep municipal tax increases to a minimum.
Nightingale attended Simon Fraser University, where she majored in geology and minored in biology. She spent most of her career working for UPS in management and operations, and has “pretty good experience with analyzing processes and doing budgets.” When she began her study in June, Nightingale wanted “to determine if there is a relationship between population growth and tax rates.”
She didn’t agree with the way that the 2016-2020 budget and financial plan was presented, and wanted to find concrete numbers to support her suspicions that Rossland’s population was in fact increasing, despite it’s high municipal mill rate. “It seemed to indicate that we had no opportunity for more revenue, that our taxes were already too high, that people weren’t moving to Rossland because of that, and people were actually leaving for other communities,” said Nightingale. “And it seemed when I looked around on the street — which of course is entirely anecdotal — that we had more and more people, and lots of people coming into town.”
Nightingale began looking at publicly available data to compare Rossland to BC’s other 13 resort municipalities and to “geographic cohorts” — a term Nightingale used to refer to other municipalities in the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary (RDKB) — Fruitvale, Grand Forks, Greenwood, Midway, Montrose, Trail, and Warfield — and municipalities that Brian Teasdale, the City of Rossland’s CAO, recommended — Castlegar, Creston, Nelson, Cranbrook and Penticton.
She discovered that the number of Home Owner Grants (HOG) claimed in Rossland increased 18 per cent in 2015 — a larger increase than any of the other geographic cohorts she looked at.
She also found that the average assessed value of a home in Rossland in 2016 was $264,780. Looking at the average assessed value for the 12 geographic cohort municipalities, Nightingale found the average was $231,230, leading her to conclude that Rossland houses were not significantly more expensive. Looking at the 13 other BC resort municipalities, the average was $446,274, putting Rossland well below average (note: Sun Peaks, Tofino and Whistler are included among the other BC resort municipalities, contributing to the higher average).
Nightingale also looked at the total residential property taxes and charges for the average assessed house in 2016, and the per cent change in total residential property taxes and charges between 2005 and 2016. Rossland’s taxes and charges for an average assessed house in 2016 were $4205, while the average for the geographic cohort municipalities was $3174. At the same time the percent change for Rossland was an increase of 28 per cent, but the average change for geographic cohort municipalities was a 56 per cent increase. For resort municipalities, the average taxes and charges for an average assessed value home in 2016 were $3,783 and the average change was an increase of 42 per cent.
She also compared Rossland to communities with highly serviced, similarly tax proportioned (i.e. a large percentage of tax revenue comes from residents) BC communities — Enderby, Lake Country, Maple Ridge, Oak Bay, Peachland, Sechelt, Summerland, West Vancouver and White Rock — and found that not only does Rossland have comparatively low property taxes and charges ($4205 vs. an average of $5177), but also compares favourably in terms of growth (HOG increased 18 per cent in 2015 vs. an average increase of four per cent). When she compared Rossland to lesser serviced BC municipalities with a similarly proportioned tax base — Belcarra, Bowen Island, Coldstream, Granisle, Greenwood, Lake Cowichan, Lantzville and Lions Bay — she found that while Rossland’s taxes and charges were similar ($4205 vs. an average of $4060), it’s population growth was still higher (18 per cent vs. an average of three per cent).
All of this led Nightingale to conclude that “Rossland house values remain very affordable, compared to similar communities.” She also found that “Rossland’s total variable taxes and charges have increased by only 55 per cent of the provincial average since 2005.”
Another important thing Nightingale learned was that while Rossland’s municipal mill rate has increased 104 per cent since 2005, the regional mill rate has decreased 51 per cent, so that despite the dramatic rise in the municipal rate, Rossland homeowners have only experienced a 23 per cent mill rate increase overall. Part of the mill rate increase also came from the city reducing parcel taxes and raising the mill rate instead, so that the initial cost to homeowners was not necessarily significantly higher than it had been before.
“What has happened is that the municipality is getting more revenue, from the regional portion, and has changed the type of revenue from the parcel tax portion, but it really hasn’t increased the cost to homeowners,” explained Nightingale. “And as a matter of fact, they haven’t increased their rates to keep up with the provincial average.”
By the time she finished her study, Nightingale had come to the conclusion that Rossland’s number of residents is increasing, that Rossland’s tax rates were competitive, and that Rossland’s growth could be attributed to its community services and facilities.
“After doing the work of the study, my opinion is that Rossland is growing because of the services and facilities that we have, and the diversity of our community, and that is really what is attracting our substantial growth compared to everyone else,” said Nightingale.