Another tax hike for Maple Ridge

Total increase of 5.5 per cent proposed to council

One day, a more densely populated Maple Ridge will reach a point where tax increases match the cost of living increase and the average taxpayer is spared the body blows of tax hikes that are almost twice that rate.

But Maple Ridge isn’t there yet.

That’s because the district is still growing. People are moving in, services are expanding, all of which cost tax dollars. And that’s why, next July, taxes on the average home will jump 5.57 per cent. That works out to another $131 for a home valued at $410,000.

It’s a rate that includes four per cent for municipal purposes, with hikes in the fire levy, recycling, water and sewer fees, pushing the increase to more than five per cent. If those extra charges were removed, the tax increase would be only $47.

Council saw the numbers during its business planning session Monday as it plots the year ahead and prepares its financial plan.

“If you thought 2011 was busy, wait until 2012. It’s a jam-packed agenda,” chief administrator Jim Rule told council.

On the district’s to-do list this year is $20 million worth of capital works projects. That includes $500,000 in 2012 alone (a million over five years) for road calming and traffic safety measures to address concerns raised by River Road or Shady Lane residents as more traffic uses their roads as commuting shortcuts.

Specific projects on the fast-track list will be installing a pedestrian-controlled traffic light at 224th Street and 121st Avenue, about a $220,000 cost. The work scheduled for that has been advanced to address senior citizens’ concerns.

Work will also start on a new 232nd Street bridge over the North Alouette River, about a $4.5-million project, while the district has also found $100,000 for its bikeway program, and $700,000 has been set aside as the district’s share for the new bike lane proposed for Lougheed Highway between 216th and Laity streets.

About $705,000 will go to buy a new fire truck.

Installing a pedestrian controlled light at 240th Street and Hill Avenue is also a $150,000 priority.

“Basically, we’re just trying to maintain services,” said Mayor Ernie Daykin.

A quarter of the increase will go into the district’s infrastructure fund that will be used to upgrade and maintain roads, sidewalks and sewers as they age.

“I don’t think we should waver from that,” because it’s passing the problem on to the future, he said.

“Where do we cut? Because to reduce it, we’ll have to cut services.”

Former council candidate Christian Cowley agrees that tax increases matching the cost of living increase is about the best taxpayers can hope for.

But he disagreed that creating more densely populated municipalities mean lower taxes.

“It’s welcome [densification], but it won’t necessarily stop or lower taxes. We should stop saying that.”

The district will rake in $4.2 million in new revenue this year, but it will just as soon be gobbled up another million dollars that will go to the RCMP, mainly for higher wages and benefits costs and two new officers for the Ridge-Meadows detachment.

Policing costs could climb again when it’s time to implement an impending two- to three-per cent retroactive raise in RCMP salaries.

“This is an issue that we’ll have to come to grips with. The impact of that retroactive wage adjustment is going to be quite significant,” financial general manager Paul Gill told council.

Another million will go for increases in district staffing costs, for wages and benefits.

The current agreement with Canadian Union of Public Employees expires in March.

The rest of the $4.2 million in new money will be split between the Maple Ridge Fire Department ($850,000) the infrastructure fund, library ($525,000), and other costs ($125,000).

Some of the other projects in the works for next year is development of a Bear Aware program, along with updating a trail management strategy, as well as updating the district’s website.

Total take in taxes for 2012 will be $60 million.

“Our job is to respond to council, hear the issues they raise,” Gill said previously.

He told council, though, that there are no “incremental” increases in budgets. Department requests for any increases “were really, really discouraged.”

The district has about $94 million socked away in reserve accounts, dedicated for specific purposes, but he strongly advised dipping into those accounts to fund operations.

Coun. Corisa Bell asked for a more detailed analysis of the four-per-cent tax increase and wondered why alternative scenarios of two- and three-per-cent increases weren’t also offered.

Rule rolled out some demographic data that showed how Maple Ridge will have to govern itself during the decades.

A third of Canada’s population will be over 55 by 2031, said Rule.

“This has lots of implications for the services delivered by the District of Maple Ridge and we have to start planning for that.” For instance,

That will see an exodus from single family homes to the point that half will be townhouses and half will be single family homes.

He pointed out that Maple Ridge has the lowest average housing price in the Lower Mainland, at $570,000.

He added that the average Maple Ridge property tax bill is $2,360, working out to $6.47 a day. By comparison, basic cable TV, Internet and phone costs $1,344 a year.

However, he pointed out that cities take in only eight per cent of all tax dollars in Canada, with the two senior governments taking the rest.

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