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Pitt tax petition talk gets testy
A petition calling for no residential tax increase in Pitt Meadows next year sparked a testy exchange Tuesday as the petitioners made their final plea for city council to heed their request.
Tom and Norma Murray presented the petition with 1,300 signatures to council, accompanied by speeches imploring the city to rein in spending and give property owners tax relief in 2013.
“We hope council and city staff are willing to listen to solutions from us, the residents, who have spent several months analyzing the city’s budget and believe no tax increase is possible without drastic cuts to services,” said Tom Murray.
A former school board trustee, Murray started the petition in July after a staff report to council suggested general taxes will increase about four per cent annually for the next five years.
Fed up with tax increase upon tax increase, Murray wanted the city to follow West Vancouver and Mission, cities which saw no increase in taxes in 2012. Abbotsford is also attempting a “near zero" for 2013.
Murray’s wife Norma was saddened by the fallout of the petition, which she said has been viewed by the city’s mayor and some councillors as a “personal vendetta.”
“Your task now, as responsible city government, is to show all these people here tonight - as well as those who aren’t - how you can get our fine city back in the black, by using good old common sense,” she told council.
“Turn this around. I know you can do it.”
The Murrays’ speeches, however, did not elicit a positive responses from everyone on council.
Couns. Janis Elkerton and Bruce Bell promised to be mindful of their plea for no tax increase when the city begins preparing next year’s budget. Both councillors support the residents’ call for staff to craft a zero-tax increase budget, to see exactly what services would be cut.
“I take this very seriously and I am very concerned about constantly increasing taxes. I am a taxpayer myself,” said Elkerton.
Their colleagues, though, are adamant that a zero-tax budget is a waste of staff time and an impossible feat.
Mayor Deb Walters pointed out just a month before the petition was started, the Murrays invited her over for coffee and presented her with a list of “demands.”
Walters said the couple wanted speed bumps, a cement wall, additional signage, more bylaw enforcement and police in their neighbourhood.
“Those things come at a cost, they are not free,” she added.
Walters, raising her voice, assured “if there is a way to cut back, we will!”
“We have asked staff to work on a budget that is not excessive. We are all taxpayers in this community. That is our commitment and it has always been. We thank you for bringing the petition. We will circulate it and take it under advisement,” Walters said.
Coun. Tracy Miyashita, meanwhile, accused the Murrays and their supporters of pressuring people to sign the petition.
“Unlike Coun. Elkerton, I don’t believe in the validity of this petition because of the methods used to obtain signatures,” she said.
“I have received numerous complaints from residents about this.”
She alleged people were “bullied” and “pressured” into signing the petition while entering grocery stores. When residents did not sign the petition at their doors, Miyashita claims, there was aggression.
“A lot of people signed it based on the misinformation they were receiving at that time,” she added.
Coun. Gwen O’Connell noted that Mission, the city which had no tax increase this year, was not part of Metro Vancouver, while Coun. Doug Bing asked the Murrays what services those who signed the petition want cut.
“I can tell you this council is reasonable and we will be looking closely at the budget,” said Bing.
The comments from councillors did not go unchallenged. At the end of the meeting, more residents spoke in support of the petition and once again pleaded with council to listen to their solutions.
Andrew Markowski, a resident who helped collect signatures for the petition, took offence to the suggestion that people were coerced.
Another called councillors’ attitudes “disgraceful.”
“This is the city, right here,” said Jerry Gillan, turning around and pointing to a packed council chamber.
“Don’t shoot the messenger. He is here with a message and it’s not just his. Your jobs up there are for the people. You should want to hear from them.”
• Video of Tuesday's council meeting (Nov. 6 2012) is archived on the city's website.
The city is now in the process of business planning for 2013. Presentations will be held at city hall in Pitt Meadows Dec. 5, 6, and 11 and will include highlights of each department’s business plan, an overview of the city’s financial plan and related tax issues. All meetings are open to the public. There will also be a formal public consultation meeting at an open house on Dec. 11 at 5 p.m. Business plans will also be available online and in print at the library as of Nov. 23 for the public to review.
• Read related editorial: Zero Work