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Pitt Meadows councillor wants tax increase lowered further

This is what the proposed tax rate increase will look like for the average homeowner in Pitt Meadows. Coun. Janis Elkerton would like to make the increase one per cent low. - City of Pitt Meadows
This is what the proposed tax rate increase will look like for the average homeowner in Pitt Meadows. Coun. Janis Elkerton would like to make the increase one per cent low.
— image credit: City of Pitt Meadows

Homeowners in Pitt Meadows could see their taxes drop even further if councillors back a proposal by one of them to slash a proposed rate change for 2012 by another per cent.

Coun. Janis Elkerton is set to bring a resolution to council on Tuesday to reduce the proposed residential tax increase by one per cent, to 2.93 from 3.93 per cent.

To offset the decrease, she’d like to increase all other classes by one per cent.

She also wants the guiding principal for all future budgets to be the equivalent of the annual Consumer Price Index per cent increase.

Elkerton will be making her pitch the same night the city’s 2012 tax rate bylaw, with the proposed 3.93 increase, is set to get three readings.

“This is the biggest item we deal with,” said Elkerton. “We don’t have to rush it.”

City council settled on the 3.93 rate change in mid-December after spending hours fine-tuning the budget for the 2012 fiscal year.

Although council managed to reduce the 4.75 tax rate increase initially pitched by staff by 20 per cent, Elkerton said she was uncomfortable with it and abstained from voting.

During the Christmas break, she decided to gather information to pitch her case to other councillors.

“I have never voted against a budget - ever,” said Elkerton, who previously spent 14 years on council.

“It is not good enough just to say no. You have to go look for solution.”

Elkerton found out that in 2009 all other classes had a zero per cent increase. She also believes there are other areas where cuts can be made, such as $12,000 being spent on a survey of residents that’s been conducted by the city every three years, and another $200,000 being spent to paint the arenas.

“We had the survey. We had an election. We found out what people were concerned about,” said Elkerton, adding painting the arena is “a nicety versus a necessity” that can be done when the city has more cash.

She’s also alarmed at the city’s debt, which currently sits at $16 million.

“I am just having trouble with how fast the debt ran up,” she said, noting that the city was debt-free four years ago when she last sat on council.

“We are not immune to the fiscal problems of the rest of the world and Canada. I really think we have to tighten our fiscal belt and look at way of reducing the tax burden.”

Coun. Tracy Miyashita was surprised that Elkerton asked to rehash the budget.

“I thought we had already spent a lot of time on this,” she said at a meeting Tuesday.

According to the Community Charter, the tax rate bylaw must be adopted by May 15. A financial plan bylaw must be adopted before that.

City director of finance Dean Rear couldn’t say what the final outcome of the tax shift would be.

“Shifting tax burden between classes is a policy decision that all local governments are able to make,” Rear said. “The residential class has the lowest tax rate. All of the other property classes have tax rates higher than the residential class by varying multiples.”

Doug Bing, a councillor who also owns a business, doesn’t think Elkerton’s will work.

“In the tough economic times we are in, a lot of small businesses are struggling. There’s a thought that small businesses won’t notice a small tax increase, but that’s not true. Any tax increase is going to be noticed by them. They either have to bring in more money by selling more product, have to reduce their staff, or their costs go up. I think that the reduction we have made in taxes from 4.75 to 3.93 benefits residents and business.”

The city’s mayor, meanwhile, doesn’t mind a slight delay in approving the 2012 tax rate increase, but doesn’t think it is as simple as shifting the burden from one class to another.

“By doing that, it would go up more than one per cent [for other classes], and I don’t believe that is reasonable to our agricultural people, for one. They pay high drainage utilities and are struggling enough as it is,” said Deb Walters.

She also doesn’t think the business class can bear the brunt of an increase, either.

“We want to attract development and business so our residents can work close to home. We don’t want to discourage it.”

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