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Residents win when council listens

It’s amazing what can happen in a matter of two weeks.

After being criticized for regularly agreeing with one another and limiting public debate, municipal council has done a complete 180, rejecting three motions during the last two council meetings and instigating real debate.

The sudden departure from their more predictable nature is a welcome sign and should be seen as a victory for local democracy, especially in light of its decision this week to hold the tax rate at 1.9 per cent for 2017.

For months, if not years, businesses and residents have been stating that the steady year-over-year increase in municipal taxes is unsustainable.

Between 2012 and 2016 municipal taxes increased by more than 20 per cent, far outpacing the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which the Bank of Canada uses as a measure of inflation.

Over that same period of time CPI has increased by 6.9 per cent, according to Statistics Canada.

The CPI is the most relevant measure of the cost of living for most Canadians because it is based on a basket of goods and services that Canadians typically buy, such as food, housing and transportation.

By holding the municipal tax rate in line with inflation council is sending a signal to the community that it is listening and that it understands times are tough for a lot of people here.

All you have to do to get the picture is look at the number of businesses that are downsizing in the community or appealing their tax assessments.

In most communities, those in municipal administration tend to be ideologically fixated on increasing taxes, claiming that’s the only way to fix and repair their town’s aging assets.

While it’s a fair argument and one that will ultimately save taxpayers money down the road, it fails to say anything about cutting costs and that’s a problem.

In the real world, most people can’t force their employers to pay them more so they often have to find ways to trim their budget or simply go without.

For a large segment of the population, that means living paycheque to paycheque or skimping out on groceries for the week.

If this is the way a lot of people are currently living, it only makes sense the municipality finds a way to live within its means.

This is not to say the municipality shouldn’t be putting away at least some money for the future, but this can’t all be done on the backs of taxpayers. It needs to be done in a way that is affordable for everyone, not just a few.

With a municipal election six months away it’s time to consider cutting the fat from the municipality’s operating budget and the merits of additional revenue tools, such as a tourist consumption levy or parking fees.

Otherwise, if we choose to do nothing and stick with the status quo we run risk of Jasper becoming an unaffordable place.

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