Ridge explains 3.5 per cent tax hike

The downtown incentive plan initiated $140 million worth of new construction involving 45 new projects.  - The News/files
The downtown incentive plan initiated $140 million worth of new construction involving 45 new projects.
— image credit: The News/files

Another livestreamed question and answer session on Maple Ridge’s budget drew an audience of 25, with only nine tuned in at a time.

The April 28 hour-long session was the second such occasion during  which people used social media and e-mail for explanations of this year’s 3.5-per-cent tax hike.

Topping the tax topics was the $925,000 increase in policing costs, bringing the 2014 tab for Ridge Meadows RCMP to $16 million.

But the district is now different than any other municipality in facing climbing costs, largely to pay for defined benefit police pension plans.

It’s not the first year for such increases, financial general manager Paul Gill told the questioner. The past several years police costs have climbed by at least half a million annually for the same reason.

Maple Ridge also wants to ensure that the RCMP squad grows as the population grows to maintain the proper police to citizen ratio. To have no increase in police spending would mean the detachment loosing six officers, a decrease of about seven per cent.  The detachment has 110 members with 85 covering Maple Ridge and 22 in Pitt Meadows.

Another resident, who lived in a rural area with no street lights, sidewalks, water or sewer, wanted to know why her or his tax rates were the same as someone who lived in an urban area.

But property taxes aren’t connected to service levels, Gill pointed out.

Instead, costs are spread out among residents, as are the services. However, people who are on Metro Vancouver water and sewer do pay utility levies that those in the country areas don’t.

Another questioner wondered about the cost to the taxpayer of the downtown incentive plan, which gave tax breaks and cash grants to encourage new buildings.

The cost is zero, Gill replied.

The property tax holiday is for only three years, after which the regular tax rates kick in.

According to the district, the incentive plan produced $140 million worth of new construction involving 45 new projects.

A familiar question appeared again: why can’t Maple Ridge match its property tax increase with the increases in the consumer price index.

But municipalities face steeper cost increases that normal households don’t have to face, such as policing and fire costs, equipment and materials.

Gill told a questioner that Maple Ridge council could decide to implement district-wide garbage collection, although that would mean higher property taxes.

Council has considered the topic many times and decided not to do that.

Currently, residents hire private contractors to pick up or garbage or haul it to the waste transfer station near the Ridge Meadows Recycling Depot.

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