On Tuesday

3.2 per cent tax hike rubber stamped in less than a day

Coun. Corisa Bell not happy with increase or budget process in Maple Ridge

Council hasn’t done a good enough job trying to scrimp and save and spare taxpayers a 3.25-per-cent hike in taxes, says Coun. Corisa Bell.

She voted against third reading of the 2014 financial plan Tuesday, saying people on fixed incomes can’t afford it.

Council’s decision came after a day and a half of staff presentations and a one-hour public question session that evening on the plan that brings an average increase of 3.25 per cent for municipal purposes. After utility hikes are added in, the increase is 3.75 per cent, or another $100.

Bell didn’t like hearing staff present the budget on Monday, then having to vote the same day on whether to forward it to its Tuesday meeting, where it received third reading.

Instead, Bell says council needs another working session, without senior staff present, to pore over the reams of information presented.

Most people accept they have to pay taxes and don’t mind doing so, provided they’re getting value for money paid and that they can afford to pay more in taxes, she said on her website.

“What I am hearing from the public across all economic spectrums is we can’t afford further tax increases,” Bell wrote.

“The way our society is operating is that we have double-income families that are paying 42-per-cent of their annual income to taxes at one level or another.”

Council in May told staff to reduce the increases to 3.3 per cent in 2014.

Previously, the hike for next year had been set at 4.05 per cent.

Staff in turn came back with a lower increase for municipal purposes – only 3.25 per cent.

Mayor Ernie Daykin said that final reading of the plan doesn’t happen until late January and that people still can speak on the budget before then.

People can also speak about the budget throughout the year.

“This is the work, in the last two or three days, is the culmination of eight to 10 meetings or updates.”

Councillors have also had the budget document for the preceding three weeks, he noted.

Council could have jammed that process into a week in November.

“Nothing is unusual or different than in previous years,” Daykin said.

Bell has earlier questioned building the new $6-million Fire Hall No. 4 in north Albion, saying the district can’t afford it.

But the project has been delayed for several years and council still has the final say on whether to actually proceed with it.

“None of these are etched in stone,” Daykin said.

“In my view, there are lots of opportunity,” for input.

Katherine Wagner, with Facebook group Council Watch, said the question session was more for information rather than an exercise in seeking public input.

“I don’t recall them ever asking for input.”

She also questions the timeline of council approving the budget a day after it was presented to council.

“I would really like to have debate and discussion.”

While councillors have had the financial plan for a few weeks, Wagner says it should have been available to the public for a longer period before it was passed.

“I think there should be multiple opportunities for input. Council decided an awful lot of things in a short period of time.”

People need time to absorb all the information, she added.

“I would like to see more formal requests for input and people’s opinions.”

She added she doesn’t want to go a meeting on the off chance council may talk about the budget and can’t sit through it all unless she can choose the time and location.

She also agreed with Bell that budget discussions should be videotaped.

“It should be recorded and available.”

Finance general manager Paul Gill said the public can input any time of the year on budget items.

“Council has seen this material several times over the past year. Council has had this material for a long period of time.”

He pointed out all councillors approved the guidelines for lower taxes in the spring.

“All the discussions in May were public,” Gill added.

“We don’t have any secret discussions on the budget.”

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