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‘No new spending in Maple Ridge budget’

Unless you count cash allotted to the fight the invasive Japanese knotweed, next year’s Maple Ridge budget will be a hold-the-line affair, designed to give a break to the homeowner.

Taxes and utilities will still climb, but they’ll go up less dramatically than before, after council scaled back the five-per-cent hikes that kicked in almost automatically in  previous years.

“There’s a number of things that we would have liked to have done,” Mayor Ernie Daykin said Thursday. “The only thing that we added to the plan this year is the $30,000 for the noxious weed program.”

While there are new levies for recreation and drainage added to a tax bill, Daykin pointed out the district chopped in half the one per cent increase that went to fund roads, parks and sewer projects.

“It’s a good range of projects to maintain what we’ve got, to look after the core business of the municipality – water, sewer, roads and bridges.”

But a municipality is similar, he added, to a car or a house: it has to be maintained or the bills will add up later.

Council pores over the proposed financial plan at its Monday and Tuesday meetings to see if it agrees with a general increase of 3.9 per cent for taxes and utilities, about two per cent less than the year before.

With growth in the tax base and the tax increase, Maple Ridge will earn another $3.2 million next year. However, fire and police costs will soak up almost a third of that new money.

Another break coming to the taxpayer is Metro Vancouver’s deferral of water and sewer projects, which reduced increases for those utility charges.

Daykin also said the district has approved a new recreation master plan, but hasn’t yet approved an implementation plan that allots money for new projects.

According to the financial overview, the district should spend about $40 million a year to maintain its $1.3 billion worth of roads, parks and sewers.

But actual spending lags behind that, which is why one per cent of the tax increase is allotted for infrastructure, although it’s chopped this year to half a per cent.

Financial manager Paul Gill also pointed out that many larger cities are now sending out water and sewer bills separately from the tax notices, so the increases aren’t part of the tax computation.

“So they don’t become part of the discussion.”

The district will hire no new personnel nor give major wage adjustments in the 2013 period and is always looking at ways of doing things more cheaply, Gill added.

“Where things make sense, we implement them right off the bat.”

But room is still in the budget to allow hiring of three additional firefighters and three more police officers, as part of long-term plans.

A major project that will be started in 2013 is the replacement of the 232nd Street bridge over the North Alouette River, about a $4.6-million project that will be done about a year from now.

That will remove a major roadblock to future widening of the road to the new neighhourhoods in north Maple Ridge.

Exactly when the entire road from Fern Crescent to Silver Valley will go to four lanes  depends on future traffic volumes and development along the street, which will pay for the road improvements, engineer Dave Pollock explained previously.

Other projects slated for 2013 include $1.1 million for vehicle replacements, $260,000 for a traffic circle at Kanaka Way and 234A Street (near Kanaka Creek elementary), $285,000 for a sidewalk on Lorne Avenue, about $650,000 for improvements at Whonnock Lake, and $208,000 for new furniture and renos at Ridge Meadows RCMP detachment.

Guidelines for the financial plan include preparing scenarios for departments functioning on 90 per cent of their budget, while new proposals for new staff or programs must always come with a business case.

One bright spot for the district is the money hauled from the Maple Ridge Community Gaming Centre. The district gets a share of revenues from the electronic slot machines, and so far has hauled in $623,000 in the first nine months of this year, above the half million projected.

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