Councillors discuss tax increases during a Zoom meeting last week. The city budget will be back on the agenda Tuesday night. (Special to The News)

Councillors discuss tax increases during a Zoom meeting last week. The city budget will be back on the agenda Tuesday night. (Special to The News)

Councillors want to give Maple Ridge taxpayers a break

Budget back on the agenda Tuesday night for final reading

At least two Maple Ridge city councillors will try to knock about one per cent off the city tax and utilities bill that will otherwise rise 4.3 per cent for the coming year.

The 2021 budget will be on council’s agenda on Tuesday night for first, second and third reading. At the April 20 meeting of council’s committee of the whole, Councillors Gordy Robson and Ahmed Yousef both indicated they still want to pare it back, and spare taxpayers a large tax hike during the economic downturn of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yousef noted neighbouring cities offered tax relief to residents last year.

“To do that, they had to cut capital projects, or they had to cut programs,” responded city CAO Al Horsman. “They had other types of impacts that resulted from that, which they’re now making up in future years, because they’re trying to catch up.”

“It does demonstrate that it’s do-able, that other municipalities have done it, and lived to tell about it,” answered Yousef.

Robson asked specifically whether funds budgeted for recreation and infrastructure reserves could be eliminated, to take one per cent off the tax increase.

READ ALSO: Maple Ridge council considers budget with 3.6% property tax increase

Horseman responded there are projects associated with those increases. His financial officer said some reduction is possible.

“We could reduce what we spend, if it hasn’t been tendered already,” said Trevor Thompson, city chief financial officer. “We really are at the 11th hour.”

“It’s do-able, is the answer,” said Robson.

“The answer is yes, but there’s significant implications for being able to achieve the plans that have been identified and approved by council,” countered Horsman.

“I get that, but there’s a lot of plans that our residents have too, in COVID, and they would love the relief,” answered Robson.

“I just wanted to find out if it was possible. Now all I have to do is find three friends (council votes).”

Coun. Judy Dueck, who was chairing the meeting, urged her fellow councillors to stay the course.

“You just said it Coun. Robson, five people voted in favour of moving this forward after several conversations, we sent staff down this trail, and said go ahead, do all the work, bring back the financial plan. So I guess I heard it’s do-able, but I also would respectfully request that those of us that voted in favour stay on that track…”

“You can lobby all you want when the item is on the table,” Robson interrupted.

Dueck agreed council will have the conversation on Tuesday evening.

Coun. Chelsa Meadus asked for a list of what would need to be cut if councillors “go down that road.”

READ ALSO: Dalton slams budget, Ruimy defends Liberal spending

Robson said after the meeting he plans to table a motion, which will likely be seconded by Yousef, to at least debate a lower increase.

He intends to argue that council has banked approximately $20 million in community amenity contributions from developers. That new source of revenue should allow council to stop going to taxpayers for reserves for capital projects every year, he said, or at least this year.

“We can eliminate that easily, without asking staff to re-do the budget,” he said. “We can do it. The municipality’s finances are very healthy.”

Yousef said he and Robson have opposed the budget at every vote, because they want to give residents some relief during the global pandemic.

“I would rather we don’t take this money out of residents’ pockets, and have it sit in a reserve,” he said. “I hope my colleagues will see it that way.”

If there is no change, property taxes on the average residence assessed at $772,000 will rise by $149 to $3,614 including water, sewer and recycling charges.

The financial plan calls for the same 3.6 per cent property tax increase for each of the next five years, with varying increases for water, sewer and recycling charges on top.

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