By Tim Kalinowski on February 13, 2021.
Municipal Affairs is currently evaluating whether or not to move forward with a full Municipal Inspection of the Town of Pincher Creek after recently validating the results of a petition organized by local community group “Our Voices Matter.”
The group needed to gather 720 signatures to request the Municipal Inspection, and ended up garnering over 850, says former town councillor and spokesperson James Litkowski.
“We have been through the preliminaries with the Minister of Municipal Affairs, and now it is up to them to see what the Town’s views on this, and everything, are,” he says. “Where they will go and compare with what we have to say. We are now in that stage of limbo until they get done talking with the people at the Town, and decide what they are going to do and how they want to do it.”
The issues people in the community have with their local elected representatives and Town administration boils down to what many feel is a lack of fiscal accountability, says Litkowski.
“It’s a little bite here, and a little bite there,” he says, referring to a 25 per cent increase in municipal spending since 2015 and over what, he claims, is a doubling of local taxes.
“It’s not the little bite for the people on fixed incomes. I am one of these people, and after awhile you get to the point in saying somebody has got to do something. If we don’t complain, nothing is going to happen. Well, we are complaining and still nothing is happening.”
Mayor Don Anderberg disputes Litkowski’s tax increase claims, saying the public record shows the municipal portion of property taxes have increased by 5.8 per cent since 2015.
The Town also has a series of special levies, or requisitions, to support local organizations and services on top of that base rate, acknowledges Anderberg, but even taking those into account the total tax increase, based on his own property assessment, has been about 8.37 per cent.
“I guess if someone wants to argue our taxes are out of control, go ahead and argue it,” states Anderberg.
“But that statement of a 100 per cent increase from 2015-2020, maybe Mr. Litkowski can justify it – but I want to see how that has worked out. He can put that in the public, and I will put my numbers in the public.”
Anderberg does acknowledge community spending has increased by about 25 per cent over a five-year span, but this has not come directly from the pockets of local taxpayers in its entirety.
“The amount of money that is being spent has gone up because we are really good at finding grants and money from other sources,” he states. “So it is not being paid by taxpayers up front.
“The actual money that is being collected from the municipality – the actual householders and commercial people in town here is the numbers I gave you. And I will stand by them.”
According to Town documents provided to The Herald, the community also borrowed about $2 million of a total cost of $4.1 million toward building two new daycares in the community.
Litkowski says the daycares, proposals for a new six-sheet curling rink, a proposed expansion of the current golf course into 18 holes all adds up to one big wallop to taxpayers. He doesn’t know where the money for such high-priced expenditures is expected to come from in a community of 3,600, and he does not feel town council has been very forthcoming with those answers either.
“They are planning now, they say, for the future,” states Litkowski.
“They want to have a bunch of stuff replaced or added to, and we are not talking about a few dollars – we are talking millions. I don’t know what a six-sheet curling rink costs, but I am going to say somewhere between $6-$10 million. They are talking about an 18-hole golf course. We have got a nine, and, yeah, the buildings need refurbishing. But why are they talking about an 18-hole course? For rating things, they say it costs $1 million a hole to expand. Where is this money coming from?”
Anderberg says the Town is in the process of putting together a Recreation Master Plan which will explain this information, but it is not ready for public dissemination yet. He does, however, reject the notion there is anything nefarious in trying to create new amenities for a more liveable community, both for its citizens and its broader regional trading area.
The Herald asked Anderberg if things are as he says, why have 850 people petitioned the Minister of Municipal Affairs to conduct a Municipal Inspection then instead of waiting for an election this fall?
Anderberg says he will not speculate on that issue, but he, for one, welcomes any potential audit from Municipal Affairs.
“I personally would actually welcome a full blown inspection to clear the air,” he states.
“There is lots of innuendo, and misinformation out there.”
Anderberg points out the Town has passed its financial audit every year he has been on council, and Municipal Affairs has found no issues with Pincher Creek’s annual reports to the province.
For his part, Litkowski says many in the community have long felt there is something wrong at the heart of Pincher Creek, and no longer trust council and administration is looking out for everyone’s best interests – only certain interests. That’s why they want the Municipal Inspection; to bring it all out in the open.
“This is a corrupt little town,” he says.
“It’s a nice place, but it is a corrupt little town. Because if you are not part of the clique, you are not in it. If you are not part of the clique, you are not really part of the community. You are disenfranchised within the community.
“There has to be some changes,” Litkowski concludes, “but I don’t know exactly what that entails. We’ll have to see what the Minister is going to do at Municipal Affairs.”
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