Taxes trimmed down to 3.9 per cent
After paring down the total property tax increase for this year to an average 3.9 per cent, Maple Ridge council is continuing its restraint into the future and is telling staff to do the same for the next four years.
Guidelines issued to staff last week call for total tax increases of 3.6 per cent in 2014, 3.8 per cent for the two years after that and 3.98 per cent for 2017 and 2018, giving taxpayers a break from previous years, when they faced hikes of five and six per cent.
“We’re trying our best,” Mayor Ernie Daykin said last week.
The lower numbers came after council, at its May 13 meeting, told staff to cut more from the annual increases of about 4.5 per cent, sketched out in the financial plan last December.
Reining in tax increases means deciding which projects go ahead and which don’t.
Daykin said the district hasn’t launched any new programs in the past couple years and still hasn’t allotted any money for its recently adopted new parks master plan, which should save half a per cent.
“We’re all out there. We’ve heard the same message from different people,” Daykin said earlier. “What’s happening is, we’re not doing things.”
Neither has the district hired two people for trail maintenance after the Haney Horsemen Association backed away from its volunteer chores a few years ago.
“We’re trying to trend it downwards and, of course, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business has a different view.
“They think we should be going backwards.”
This year, however, Maple Ridge is spending about a million dollars on repaving roads.
“We could not spend that and save 1.1 or 1.2 per cent on our tax bill. But it’s going to be done at some point and that’s just putting off the problem for someone else.
“We could not do a whole bunch of things and let a council in five or 10 years worry about it.
“I don’t think that’s responsible.”
But Daykin pointed out over the course of seven years, Maple Ridge’s general municipal taxes have gone from four-per-cent yearly increases to 2.25 per cent.
The guideline for next year is a 2.25-per-cent increase, only for general municipal purposes.
“We want you to hit 2.5 per cent. If you can do less, great.”
On the other hand, the district has to pay, through its sewage charges, for its share of Metro Vancouver projects, such as improving the Lions Gate sewage treatment plant on the North Shore, at a cost of $450 million, or $800 million for the Iona Island sewage treatment plant.
Coun. Corisa Bell wants a review of municipal finances to see what would be necessary to achieve a zero-per-cent tax increase. She also wants to start financial planning on a five-year basis rather than going year by year on a rolling five-year plan.
This year’s budget, for which tax notices are now in the mail, includes a half-a-per cent increase that goes into a special fund for fixing roads, as well as jumps in water and sewer rates of 5.5 and 4.5 per cent, respectively.
Council also has some plans to funnel more money into the fund for roads and sidewalks and sewers. The increase in gaming revenue of $550,000 will go into the fund, while any money from the growth in the downtown will be funneled there, as well.
To help the Hammond Interfor Forest Products mill remain viable, there also will be a $70,000 tax reduction for each year starting 2014 and continuing to 2018.
Maple Ridge resident Jim Eaton is not a happy taxpayer. He says his overall property tax bill has gone up 10 per cent. He’s now paying $4,200 in municipal taxes compared to $3,800 last year. He has no street lights or sidewalks in front of his house.
“That’s too high from what I’ve got here.”
“There is no extra services in my area. Actually, services where I live have gone down. It’s obvious to me that our mayor and council are not getting the message. There is no way property taxes should go up every year.”
Eaton disagrees with a few expenditures by the district – the stained-glass public art fixture on Lougheed Highway and 224th Street, and the multi-use bike path running east of 224th Street on Abernethy Way, which could be paved over when the road is widened.
“I just think they keep wasting money.”
‘Cities on decade-long spending spree’
According to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Canada’s big cities are on the road to ruin.
Spending is outpacing population growth by three times, in the last 12 years, the federation said last week.
The rest of the country’s cities aren’t doing any better because in the last decade, inflation-adjusted spending grew by 55 per cent, while populations only grew by 12 per cent.
“From 2000 to 2011, city staff in all Canadian municipalities increased by 25 per cent, more than double population growth,” says Mike Klassen, CFIB B.C. director of provincial affairs. “Combine that with wages and benefit packages that are more than one-third higher than comparable occupations in the private sector, and you can begin to understand the causes of overspending by our cities. It adds up to a cost of over $10,000 per Canadian family of four during the same period.”
Maple Ridge’s own numbers though, in its 2012 Citizen’s Report, shows only a $10 increase in debt per capita in the last five years, to $539 for a population of 78,124. And total expenses have only increased about $6 million from 2008 to 2012 to $138 million.