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I’m from Missouri on this one, but at least it’s an idea

For publication in the Saturday, Sept. 20, 2008 edition of The Daily News. Ideas are good, especially when it comes to candidates for political office. They tell us something about their priorities. Murphy Kennedy is doing his best to steal the initiative from mayoral opponent Peter Milobar by attacking him and by keeping a reasonable stream of press releases and proposals going out to the public. Given the fact that Kennedy’s biggest challenge is to become familiar to voters, this is not a bad strategy. As he put it yesterday during our conversation about his latest idea, “I know what I’m up against.” The strategy won’t work on all counts, and I’ll go into that in more depth on the blog next week, but let’s take a look at Kennedy’s latest proposal. This week, he released a position paper on something he dubbed KART, for Kamloops Attract and Retain Talent. Clever name for a platform plank on how to make Venture Kamloops more effective in attracting new business. Several pages long, it’s the kind of detail only policy nuts and newspaper editors would be interested in dissecting. In part, it’s harmless stuff, focusing on trade shows and career fairs, which aren’t entirely foreign to Venture Kamloops as it now operates. He doesn’t put a price tag on it. While ideas are friendly, when they come from politicians it’s always fair to ask what it will cost us, and whether they have a snowball’s chance of succeeding. Kennedy sets out in comprehensive fashion a plan for Kamloops to attract new business, via KART, not only via the marketing angle but by offering tax exemptions. It’s an interesting proposal and, in part, a little dicey. And the parts that are clearly and currently within the jurisdiction of city councils are already being done here.

The foundation of the plan is to offer incoming businesses breaks on property taxes for five years. Each applicant would be assessed according to certain criteria, such as use of technology, creation of new jobs, innovation and so on.

Points would be awarded on a scale of 100. If a business receives 17 points, it would be eligible for a 17 per cent property tax exemption for five years. If it got 100 points, it would get 100 per cent exemption for five years.

Now here’s the thing. A municipality cannot bestow a benefit to a particular business. City council can’t say, we like you, we’re going to cut your taxes. But you, the other guy, we don’t like you. No tax cuts for you.

You can set up a zone and establish criteria for tax breaks to encourage businesses to go there, but you have to offer the same to everybody in the zone, including already established businesses.

Indeed, Kennedy proposes “targeted locations” for incentives. But, indeed, the City already has two tax revitalization zones, one downtown and the other on the North Shore. Kennedy actually proposes three zones, downtown, the North Shore and the airport. The latter is an idea that has been around a long time, but has never taken off, so to speak.

Kennedy did not appear to be aware the City already has two such zones, nor of some of the restrictions on them.

He explained that his proposal is based on one in Regina, where they might do things a little differently than in B.C. “We know there’s some things that have to be ironed out in it,” he admitted, and promised to take another look at the details.

He said the proposal was actually drafted by his campaign manager, Chad Moats.

When I talked to Moats a short time later, he added another twist, which is that the plan is indeed intended to apply to all businesses, not just those in targeted areas. Businesses that did locate in a designated area would simply be eligible for additional points.

When I mentioned that City Hall’s view of the Community Charter — which governs such things — sounds to me to rule out such an approach, he begged to differ.

“I don’t think it runs afoul,” he said, but added later, “These things aren’t set in stone.”

I have some familiarity with the Community Charter and was involved in a few meetings and workshops when it was being developed but I am definitely not an expert. Few are.

When an idea is floated that depends on the legal ability of a city to do it, I’m going to reside in Missouri. But even if Kennedy and Moates are a little shy on all the facts, tax incentives for businesses are a legitimate election issue.

And the fact that they’re thinking in some detail about how to approach that issue, rather than taking the easy route and tossing out vague discussion points, raises his credibility as a candidate, in my book.

* * *

It was a case of the media interviewing the media yesterday when I got a call from Pique newsmagazine about the candidacy of Cathy McLeod.

I offered up some background and opinions and it was an interesting conversation, especially when the reporter mentioned that McLeod had refused to be interviewed for the article.

Based on anecdotal evidence around town, and now from a guy at a newsmagazine, it would seem McLeod is testing the waters very carefully. She’s been reluctant to comment on a number of issues until she becomes more familiar with Conservative policies.

Presumably, she’ll be emerging from her shell all in good time.

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About Mel Rothenburger (6985 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

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