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Too late to lower Pitt tax increase

(From top - left) Mayor Deb Walters; Janis Elkerton; Bruce Bell; Dave Murray; Tracy Miyashita and Gwen O
(From top - left) Mayor Deb Walters; Janis Elkerton; Bruce Bell; Dave Murray; Tracy Miyashita and Gwen O'Connell.
— image credit: The News/Files

A bylaw that sets this year’s tax increase has won the reluctant support of three Pitt Meadows councillors, quelling fears that a split council would put tax collection in jeopardy.

Couns. Bruce Bell, Janis Elkerton and Dave Murray said they would vote to pass the 2014 property tax rate bylaw at a meeting Tuesday as they ran out of time to slash this year’s tax increase any further.

“We’re stuck with putting the budget through,” Elkerton said Monday. “We have to deal with the reality that we have to have a budget passed by May.”

Failure to pass a property tax rate bylaw amounts to an offence under B.C.’s Community Charter, which requires municipalities to annually adopt a bylaw that authorizes them to collect taxes.

With the clock ticking towards a legislated May 15 deadline, city director of finance Mark Roberts warned council in April there were serious consequences if members were unable to reach a compromise.

Penalties include a fine of up to $2,000, imprisonment for up to six months - or both.

Bell, Elkerton and Murray remain opposed to the city’s 1.9 per cent tax increase, as they believe the city’s budget can still be tightened.

The city received a petition signed by 1,500 people calling for a “zero tax increase” for the second year in a row.

Although they’ve yielded, Bell, Elkerton and Murray intend to keep an eye on spending for the rest of the year to save taxpayers money.

Elkerton said she will vote against a $200,000 “natural park”– proposed for land at Airport Way and Bonson Road – although it’s already in this year’s budget.

Earlier this month, the three councillors managed to remove the proposed North Lougheed Connector from the city’s long-term transportation plan, which could mean the city won’t spend $50,000 this year for a study.

“There are still items that will impact the budget and create more surplus at the end of the year,” said Elkerton, reminding residents that many suggestions to cut spending were defeated during budget discussions with a 4-3 vote split.

Former Coun. Doug Bing, elected as the MLA for Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows last May, stayed on till February to ensure the 2014 budget passed and phoned in to cast his final vote.

Murray noted that his own motion in January to whittle down the tax increase to one per cent failed in a similar 4-3 split. Murray proposed the city look at cutting back small items such as grass cutting, janitorial services, as well as scrutinize the services it contracts out – a sum which totalled $2.9 million in 2012. (Figures for 2013 won’t be available until June.)

“We’ve run out of time and it wouldn’t be fair to have staff go through another budget exercise at this point,” said Murray.

This was the first time Pitt Meadows crafted two budgets - one with no tax increase and a second, which initially proposed increasing taxes by three per cent.

Bell noted that several items that presented “no risk” to service levels were dumped back into the budget, costing taxpayers $38,000.

“We move on,” he said, adding that financial scrutiny will continue.

A 1.9 per cent increase, the lowest tax hike in a decade, will add $52 to the tax bill for the average single-family home, valued at $450,000. Multi-family dwellings, valued at $270,000, will see their bills increase by $2, or 0.11 per cent.

“We are not hiding anything with extra levies, like other municipalities do,” said Mayor Deb Walters, relieved to hear her colleagues would not be thwarting tax collection to make a point about spending.

Walters reminds residents that the costs to deliver services goes up every year, so it’s likely increases won’t remain as low as 1.9 indefinitely.

“People want decent roads, people want the grass cut and people want the feel-good things, as well,” said Walters.

“It’s important to remember it costs us to deliver those services.”

Council will formally vote on the bylaw at its next regular meeting, May 6.

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