Recently Clearing the Path had the opportunity to meet with Ernest Jack, surveyor of taxes for Westbank First Nation (WFN) to discuss how property tax revenues are helping the First Nation achieve community visions. Westbank First Nation has a long taxation history under a local government services model used by many municipalities. Adapting this local government services model into a hybrid model proved a wise decision and WFN is now able to direct tax dollars to services and infrastructure that offer the most benefit to all members of the community.

In 1990, taxation generated $750,000 in revenues. They currently estimate revenues for the 2017 – 2018 taxation years will approach $14 million. One of the pivotal points for change in the community was the decision to sign a self-government agreement in 2005. This helped to increase tax revenues as the Self-Government Agreement provided certainty to investors with clear guidelines regarding business practices, leasing agreements, tax rates, and what they can expect in return from WFN in doing business.

In 2005, Westbank’s assessments on commercial values were $39 million; commercial values now top $380 million. Today, WFN is currently rank 58th among BC municipalities with a total assessments worth of $1.6 billion. They have over 400 businesses on WFN land including Home Depot, Canadian Tire, Walmart, Superstore and three Tim Hortons. The Westbank First Nation also has a strong aboriginal sector of 60 businesses including many artists, a trucking company, general construction company and restaurants such as Kekuli Café Coffee and Bannock.

The core to successfully administering the taxation revenue lies with WFN working closely with the Westbank First Nation Tax Advisory Council. The advisory council reviews tax administration budgets, including recommendations to the Chief and Council regarding tax laws and amendments. They also play a leading role in the preparation of the local government services budget, which sets property taxation rates and distribution of tax dollars. The council prioritizes funds towards worthwhile endeavours in education, public works, recreation, programming, development and administration.

Recent projects include new sidewalks, the sports court, repaving, water system upgrades, the Lakeside trail, landscaping and equipment. However, the crowning glory is the new Youth Centre opened in December 2016.

The concept for the Youth Centre began in 2012. Rapid community growth filled the gymnasium, soccer fields and ball parks to capacity. Demographics indicated a young Westbank membership, and many young families in the area. The Chief and Council approached the Advisory Council and proposed the new facility to accommodate the young demographic. They recognized an investment in youth forges strong leaders, creates a healthy community, and guides the Nation and all residents towards its long-term goals.

The 13,000 square foot Youth Centre is now a place for youth to explore leadership opportunities and enjoy a healthy, active lifestyle. The $5.5 million facility features a learning garden, outdoor kitchen, amphitheatre and green heating and cooling systems. Eventually, the centre will house ten offices and multi-use areas. It will also provide youth programming and mentoring space for Elders to interact with youth.

Of course, the core of a successful, growing community relies on other considerations too. Planning, development, maintenance, health and safety are also important. The upcoming budget includes monies to safeguard the environment, develop the lands wisely, and service the infrastructure that provides WFN residents with comfortable lifestyles. An additional $1.9 million provides law enforcement, fire protection services, and residential tenancy needs.

Westbank First Nation continues to look ahead. Every year the annual budget sets aside money in a reserve for contingencies and capital projects. It also allocates money towards the complex administrative tasks necessary for all growing communities.

Managing their tax jurisdiction continues to open doors. Prudent development, effective management, and strong leaders create a worthwhile and sustainable community. Money from taxation funds transforms worthwhile ideas into reality, creates community, and ensures a strong, happy Nation.