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Ridge financial plan on council’s desk

What your tax dollars fund at municipal hall in Maple Ridge. - District of Maple Ridge
What your tax dollars fund at municipal hall in Maple Ridge.
— image credit: District of Maple Ridge

Why can’t Maple Ridge have municipal garbage and green waste collection?

How many firefighters have to respond to a fire?

And why are tax increases higher than inflation?

It’s up to council if it wants to offer garbage pickup, said finance manager Paul Gill, answering the first question at a budget Q and A session Monday.

“You can have whatever you want. It’s a matter of paying for it.”

Council twice in the last year rejected even studying the issue of single garbage pickup, instead continuing the system where residents contract with private haulers.

And when it comes to fighting a house fire,12 is the required complement to fulfill safety requirements, replied fire chief Dane Spence.

“We don’t purposefully over-respond to calls,” Spence added later.

The questions, via e-mail, Twitter, Facebook and face-to-face, followed the first full day of talks about Maple Ridge’s 2014 budget or finance plan. The session was live-streamed online.

People asked about parks, museums and transportation as council considers a budget calling for an average property tax increase of 3.75 per cent. The increase for municipal purposes is only 3.25 per cent, but with hikes to water, sewer and recycling fees, the final increase is 3.75 per cent.

On an average house valued at $405,000, taxpayers will dish out another $100 in the first week of July.

Gill pointed out, many cities now bill residents separately for their water. That makes it tougher for homeowners to track rising costs.

Former council candidate Alex Pope asked by Twitter if Maple Ridge’s long-term transportation plan would be updated, and whether the B.C. homeowner’s grant that helps people with property taxes could be indexed to inflation.

The latter should be raised at the Union of B.C. Municipalities or the Lower Mainland Local Government Association.

Vicki McLeod wanted to know the projected growth of the commercial tax base and if there were any plans for a new Maple Ridge Museum.

Gill said no to the latter, that there isn’t any money for a project that would have “absolutely huge” costs. The price tag for a new museum would be at least $10 million. Growth in the commercial/industrial tax base is predicted at just under two per cent, but it takes a lot to change the ratio of residential to industrial, he added.

A question via Facebook asked about the three acres downtown on Selkirk Avenue that the district bought in 2011 for $3.7 million.

The money came from several reserve accounts, and Gill agreed the district wasn’t earning investment income from that money. As well, no taxes are being paid on the property.

After demolishing several old houses, the district wants to sell the land to a developer interested in building a commercial and residential complex.

Council heard updates from each department, but Monday morning was more of a staff pep talk from chief administrator Jim Rule.

Unlike many cities, Maple Ridge, as part of Metro Vancouver, is one of the few municipalities that will grow.

“We know the population is going to virtually double,” in 30 years.

“The question is, what do we want to look like when it does?

Rule said council must maintain a vision for the future or Maple Ridge will lose its way.

“It’s important we keep the corporation strong. We don’t want to become a Detroit. We don’t want to become a BlackBerry.”

The 3.25-per-cent hike in municipal spending is lower than called for by council last spring, which only wanted an increase of 3.3 per cent. While taxpayers will still pay more, the increases are half the 6.37 per cent hike imposed in 2006.

As well, identical increases are planned for the following four years of the five-year plan.

Rule said Maple Ridge has been transformed in the last decade, after the start of the Smart Growth on the Ground downtown plan, initiated when Coun. Al Hogarth was mayor.

The plan tries to make the centre of Maple Ridge a vibrant, environmentally sustainable, compact area with social and commercial amenities.

Rule said Chances Maple Ridge (gaming centre) Target and a new condo on Lougheed Highway and 223rd Street are now open, while $100 million of new construction has started in the downtown.

In the next 15 years, the Fraser River waterfront, with recreation and residential, between Haney Wharf and Kanaka Creek Regional Park “will become a reality.”

But to attract business, the district must have the confidence to invest in itself and create the infrastructure, Rule said.

“It’s very, very simple.”

When it comes to overall spending in the budget, police costs are the largest. In 2013, the district paid $20 million for policing, out of its operational budget of $110 million.

Parks and recreation cost $19 million and public works cost $14 million. Fire protection range in at $9 million.

When it comes to new spending, Maple Ridge is adding only $1 million.

Some of that will be used to fight Japanese knotweed, to kickstart the neighbourhood planning in Hammond, flood prevention, along with conversion to digital records management.

Restoration of the final two blocks of Lougheed Highway in the downtown between 224th and 226th Streets is also on the list.

With that done, all of Lougheed Highway throughout the downtown will have four lanes for traffic, plus curbside parking. However, there are no bike lanes on the main thoroughfare. Cyclists are directed to side roads to get through town.

Staff outlined scenarios involving no tax or spending increases.

With no increase in police spending, (instead of the $925,000 additional required for 2014) RCMP would have to cut their staffing level by 6.5 officers.

With no increase infrastructure spending, residents could save half a per cent on their tax increase but that could lead to later, larger increases.

If the Maple Ridge Fire Department didn’t get any additional dollars (it needs another $400,000 for wages and benefits) one fire truck would have to be withdrawn from service.

That could lead to longer fire response times.

Gill though suggested that if costs were to be cut, those would be the areas rather than using savings or cutting infrastructure projects. That can save money in the short term but can be more costly in the long term because maintenance hasn’t been kept up.

Residents could also be spared tax hikes by dipping into district savings and reserve accounts -- but what happens if the savings run out? Gill asked.

Council was to vote on the financial plan, or budget, at its Tuesday meeting.

Questions and answers will be posted on the district’s website. You can view the 2014 financial plans online.

 

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