By Lyonel Doherty
A “perfect storm” of discontent is brewing in Willowbrook.
So says Area C director Terry Schafer.
The director is referring to the large property tax increases that residents are facing, particularly for fire protection.
Schafer said he and MLA Linda Larson attended a meeting in Willowbrook to look at some people’s tax notices.
“We were both stunned by the outrageous increases. Some are now having to pay upwards of $5,000 just for fire protection,” the director said.
Others have seen their fire taxes jump from under $800 to $2,500.
“Some folks have already moved away and others are considering doing the same,” he added.
Schafer said there has even been talk of suspending fire service in Willowbrook, noting that would have to be done through a referendum as it was created by referendum. “Perhaps Willowbrook is too small for a fire service. That’s up to the residents.”
Fire Chief Pat Lantz could not be reached for comment (an email from the Chronicle was not returned).
Regional district finance manager John Kurvink said the average tax increase for fire protection is $912 per household. He noted the reason for this is recovery of prior years’ deficit, capital equipment purchases, an increase in compensation costs and training expenses.
Kurvink said a local budget presentation took place on January 29 in Willowbrook when it was indicated that the fire services budget was increasing by $147,000.
But Schafer said it’s his job to be the “punching bag” over the increase, not the fire chief.
“He’s been unfairly taking it on the chin for a budget he has limited control over.”
The director said the downloading of fire training requirements and meeting “playbook” standards are the cause of the increases.
“This may be acceptable in a municipality or city with a broader tax base, but for a regionally governed Hamlet like Willowbrook it’s so obviously unsustainable.”
Schafer said residents are already facing huge increases in their water utility service, plus the ongoing boil water advisories relating to two years of flooding.
“It amounts to a perfect storm of justifiable discontent.”
Larson said there is nothing the province can do at this time, noting it is outside their jurisdiction.
“The fight should have happened in January at the RDOS budget discussions. Too late for this year.”
But Larson said Willowbrook is a community that will come together and work on solutions.
“I am attending all discussions and if they need something from the province I will advocate for them.”
Resident Jim Stanley confirmed that he received a hefty tax increase – $2,200 annually.
“Personally, I think it’s criminal. There has to be something we can do about it. As a community, everyone must revolt and just not pay it.”
Stanley said it was the Ministry of Transportation, Argo Road Maintenance and the regional district who failed to provide flood prevention maintenance to the Willowbrook area. So why should residents be on the hook for all the costs over the past several months? he asked, noting the flood problem still isn’t rectified.
He said a meeting should be called to discuss the concerns.
Willowbrook resident Rick Knodel agreed the tax increases are hitting some people hard.
He said the problem was not caused by the regional district, but by the previous provincial government and their insistence on tinkering with regulations while hiding behind the veil of safety.