Municipal services fall behind tax hikes

Saskatchewan has always been about buckling down and getting things done.

When there’s a task at hand, we put our money where our mouths are and pool together to realize whatever objective is in our sights, whether it’s saving and cultivating Canada’s most successful football franchise or transforming our economy into the envy of North America.

When it comes to growth, there’s an implicit understanding that we all share the responsibility for financing our province’s future through community investment, support of local businesses and (who could forget) taxation.

Saskatchewan companies continue to do their part on all three fronts, but when it comes to taxation, there are mounting concerns that the gap between the money collected and the quality of services provided is widening at an alarming rate, particularly at the municipal level.

According to a Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters survey conducted last fall, 38 percent of Saskatchewan companies say municipal tax conditions have worsened over the past three years, compared to 13 percent at a provincial level and nine percent at the federal level. Those are major discrepancies.

Anyone closely following the budgetary processes of our cities, towns and municipalities this year knows they need to hold on for a bumpy ride, with imminent tax hikes on the horizon and businesses often footing a bill for rates three to four times what residents pay.

However, ask many in the industrial sector about a service as straightforward as snow removal and you’re sure to see a few rolling eyes. Even in some major urban centers, truckers have gone as far as refusing to service customers several days after a storm because they would struggle to reach the facility without becoming stuck.

For a sector as globally competitive as manufacturing, it means lost time, added cost and possibly lost orders. It also puts these homegrown enterprises at a serious disadvantage and deters new investors from setting up shop.

Simply put, we must do better.

Saskatchewan businesses have never shied away from carrying their weight, yet the load they are asked to bear comes with one reasonable expectation: limit tax creep by being as efficient and effective with their dollars as possible, and ensure they have access to the basic service levels they need to be successful.

We all need to renew that commitment. Just as business is accountable to the public, the public must be accountable to business. It’s that shared spirit of community that will keep our province thriving for generations to come.

Derek Lothian is executive director of the Saskatchewan Manufacturing Council, launched recently by Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters. The council consists of senior industry executives who have joined to weigh in on priority issues affecting Saskatchewan manufacturers and exporters.

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