In the words of Richard Attenborough, “Our lives are in your hands and you have butterfingers?”
The local government’s greatest fears have been realized in the 2016 census: Fernie’s population has surpassed 5,000, which could mean an 18 per cent tax increase to pay for a 365 per cent rise in policing costs.
Fernie will be required to enter into a Municipal Police Unit Agreement (MPUA) with the province and will be paying about $1.3 million per year to run a municipal RCMP detachment instead of the relatively paltry tax of about $365,000 that it pays now.
The community’s population has been hovering around the 5,000 mark for at least the last 20 years, so it is possible the local government was lulled into a false sense of security.
And to be fair, the 2016 census indicates that most of the nation’s rural communities are shrinking so in bucking the trend, Fernie is an exception to the rule.
However, the city must have known it would break the 5,000 threshold by the next census in 2021 by which time West Fernie will have been annexed.
It was hoping to start saving this year for that eventuality but it is far too little and much too late now.
The city has indicated that it will be pleading ignorance to the province in hopes of avoiding a massive tax increase. I sincerely hope they’re successful because if you thought Fernie was massively unaffordable before this happened, just wait.
The lodges are nice, the wood paneled hotels are pretty and all those bars selling fancy cocktails are just fabulous but what I like most about Fernie are the folks.
The parents trying to raise kids, the older residents whose families have been here for generations, the gap-year ski-bums and the ones on fixed incomes who nevertheless volunteer for all sorts of good causes and groups. It’s people like them that separate a vibrant ski town from a corporate ski retreat. And it’s people like them who will be hurt most by higher taxes.
Twenty years is a long time for a government to be taken by surprise.
Here’s hoping the municipality can get its act together to manage the issue and other challenges that are sure to face this growing community.