Hundreds gathered in Osoyoos, B.C., on Wednesday night to voice opinions over an unpopular tax hike.
In late October, town council green-lit the community’s 2024 budget, including a near 40-per cent jump in property taxes.
At Wednesday’s citizen’s town hall meeting, tensions were high, though council had earlier explained they need more funds to tackle major infrastructure projects.
Meeting organizer J.F. Launier got the meeting ball rolling with the introduction of a committee and its goal to pressure council to amend the already-approved budget.
Local business owners on the committee told meeting attendees the tax hike would force them out of their beloved town.
“If this continues the way it’s planned, there’s no way I can afford my home and my business,” said Allison Laranjo.
One after another, frustrated residents stepped up to the microphone, infuriated by the 39.3-per cent tax hike amidst rapidly crumbling infrastructure in the town.
Councillor Johnny Cheong, the only current member to show up to last night’s meeting, went back nearly a decade, when property taxes inched up by just 1.82 per cent in 2015 and 1.97 per cent in 2016.
“Then 2.99, 2.93, 2.93, 2.98, 2.4 and 4.5 in 2022,” said Cheong. “During this time, the infrastructure continued to break down.”
Launier understands the need to address the $6.8 million needed for projects related to wastewater management and more than $15 million for water system infrastructure, but feels that residents aren’t being heard.
“There’s obviously some frustration, there’s obviously some need for change,” said Launier.
“We’re doing everything we can. We just want to be heard by our town council and we want them accountable.”
Meanwhile, tensions have been high since residents got word of the tax hike.
“I have been harassed in public, my wife has been harassed in public,” said Cheong. “I’m doing the best I can with the information I have to be the best councillor I can be.
“These issues have been developing for decades, and I’ve been in office for 13 months. This is an impossible situation.”
Organizers are hopeful that with a committee and a plan now firmly in place, cooler heads will prevail moving forward.
“We spent a lot of time organizing this to make sure it was going to be respectful,” said Launier. “We even had one of the town councillors show up. Very brave of him and he did a great job.
“We appreciate that and it speaks volumes to the fact he actually wants to serve his community. The rest of them not being here, shame on them.”
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