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Weed, casinos and solar energy part of revenue-generating discussion in Parksville
Cities across the land are looking for new ways to make money to continue providing services while minimizing tax increases, and Parksville is looking to get creative.
To that end, city council has been considering casinos, medical marijuana and things like alternative energy generation, selling assets or introducing more fees and fines.
"We're always raising taxes, of course I'd prefer to never raise taxes, but as mayor I'm also chief executive officer looking at the budget and I'm thinking, how do we generate revenue?" Chris Burger said in early October as he floated the casino and medical marijuana ideas.
The federal government opened the growth of medical marijuana to private industry on Oct. 1, creating a rush of companies looking to get into what Health Canada estimates will be a $1.3 billion/year industry by 2024 with 450,000 licensed users.
On Dec. 2, Parksville council received a detailed report from their volunteer Council Advisory Committee which basically said it is not a good money-making gamble and council shouldn't pursue it.
The report points out the government is getting out of the business because it was costing them $13.8 million a year to administer, and there are many unknowns about how many licensed users there will be, how much competition there might be and what impact the possibility of legalization might have.
Council struggled with the committee's recommendation, which also asked staff to review bylaws and regulations for the new rules coming into full effect in April 2014.
A motion calling on the city to stop pursuing medical marijuana failed by a single vote. The mayor and councillors Carrie Powell-Davidson, Marc Lefebvre and Sue Powell voted against the motion that would have stopped the city from pursuing the idea.
While advisory committee chair Coun. Al Greir expressed his disappointment with the vote, council was strongly in favour of the second recommendation dealing with casinos.
When Burger floated the idea in October he said: "There are already casinos in Campbell River, Courtenay, Nanaimo, Cowichan, Port Alberni and View Royal," which earn their municipalities "$4.1 million to a low in Port Alberni of $426,000 direct revenue into the municipality and they create a lot of jobs."
Council has discussed the down sides of problem gamblers and other social issues and looked at the fact that — aside from canvassing community support — it would be a provincial decision and would require an interested company to come in and establish a casino.
So the advisory committee's recommendation was to jump ahead and do some simple investigation into whether one of the few known casino companies in the province is interested in locating in Parksville in the foreseeable future.
"That's actually a pretty novel idea that makes a lot of sense and it wouldn't take a lot of effort to do that," Burger summed up quickly and council unanimously supported the recommendation.
Council then worked their way through more than a dozen revenue- generating ideas from the committee.
An idea to add a destination tax to hotel stays was struck from the list by Greir, who said the existing two-per-cent levy that funds the tourism association is already at the provincial maximum.
They discussed a series of new tickets, fines and licenses, or at least enforcing existing ones, but again didn't get the warmest reception.
Greir said that while only about 700 dogs are licensed in the city, there are clearly many more, which could bring in revenue, but CAO Fred Manson said the $25 annual fee doesn't cover the costs and a campaign to get all the dogs and cats licensed would cost more than it would bring in.
Burger suggested the license can be a great investment for owners, who can then get lost pets back much easier.
He also pointed out these were basically new taxes and not really the same as other revenue-generating ideas that are meant to avoid increasing taxes.
There was some support for parking meters or charging for the city's currently free downtown parking lots, but not a lot of details were discussed.
They floated the idea of selling the Parksville Community and Conference Centre, which the city owns and is run by a not-for-profit society with a $250,000 annual subsidy from the city, but it was pointed out that community centres don't generally make money.
The best reception came for the idea of city-run solar and/or wind power generation, both for sale and to save the city money. Staff has looked into the idea previously and found the economics are not right yet for that to be a money-making venture, but rising energy costs indicate it could be in the near future.