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Pitt Meadows looking at four per cent annual tax increase

Where your taxes go. - City of Pitt Meadows
Where your taxes go.
— image credit: City of Pitt Meadows

An average tax increase of four per cent in each of the next five years isn’t sitting well with two Pitt Meadows councillors who’d like the city to consider no hike in 2013, for a change.

Although a four per cent increase isn’t set in stone, director of finance Dean Rear explained, in a report to council Tuesday, that the increase was based on “broad assumptions,” such as maintaining services that are being increasingly stretched as the community grows.

It’s a target staff will work with as they prepare next year’s financial plan.

Councillors Bruce Bell and Janis Elkerton, however, are determined to see staff work with a tax increase that is much lower, based on feedback they received during the election from residents who were fed up with annual spikes in their property taxes.

On Tuesday, Bell suggested staff prepare a budget based on a tax increase of zero to two per cent.

“It doesn’t look like a banner year for us, so maybe we should do some belt-tightening,” said Bell, who intends to bring such a resolution to council next Tuesday.

“At this time, I’m not for cutting services. But it’s important for council to look at all the options.”

Both Bell and Elkerton like the idea of staff preparing a budget with no tax increase, to show residents what services would be lost if tax bills remain unchanged.

West Vancouver adopted a zero per cent tax rate increase for 2012 and nearby Mission is considering doing the same in 2013.

Pitt Meadows saw an annual general tax increase of 3.93 per cent this year.

“Things are becoming so expensive and we can’t just exponentially ratchet up the budget expenditures,” said Elkerton.

“The fact is our population is getting older and the seniors are extremely concerned about an exponentially growing budget. The fiscal realities just don’t seem to be settling in for many of the councillors.”

Bell and Elkerton, however, have little support from the rest of council, some of whom believe the zero increase budget will be a waste of staff time.

“We are very aware that people are concerned about their taxes,” said Coun. Doug Bing.

“But we are not going to take a broad axe to get to an arbitrary number. We are going to look at each item individually to see where we can maybe cut or postpone.”

Bing’s comments were echoed by Mayor Deb Walters, who explained it was impossible to work with zero because the city has already heard that Metro Vancouver services are going to cost more. There are also staff wage increases and RCMP costs. A zero could only be achieved if the city cuts services or stops paying into its reserves.

“It’s about finding the most financially responsible way of providing the services for the least amount of money,” said Walters.

“I think that we do that in the city. I believe that we do. It’s just a guideline. It’s nothing in stone other than dates. To say four per cent right now is a bit of fear mongering because that’s not necessarily what it will be.”

She added that this year, she’s heard no complaints from residents about their tax bills.

“I personally never got any complaints, but the one thing I hear even more than low taxes is they don’t want to give up anything.”

During the election, however, Walters seemed open to staff to preparing a budget based on no tax increase – a project suggested by her opponent John Becker.

After mulling over the project, though, she realized it wouldn’t be time well spent.

She stressed council is determined to keep taxes as low as possible – most likely below four per cent.

“What we do with the city, we do it on a lean budget. We don’t have a lot of extra staff at all. I think we are pretty thrifty.”

Becker, who served three-terms on council, has doubts that Bell and Elkerton, who are proposing a zero tax increase exercise, will find support.

As a tax-paying resident, he’d be pleased to see the city embrace his idea because the process would respects the economic realities of a good chunk of Pitt Meadows citizens.

“I think people in this community who are on a fixed income, who have lost a job or have seen a stagnation or ... a decrease in their wages, deserve to see their circumstances reflected in the budgeting process at city hall,” said Becker.

“I think staff and council should go through the exercise of a zero tax increase and explain to the citizens what that means in the way of cuts to services and capital expenditures.”

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