Maple Ridge city council gave three readings to a financial plan bylaw that allows for a 3.6-per-cent tax increase for 2021.
Coun. Gordy Robson reiterated his position that council should give taxpayers a break during the COVID-19 pandemic, as a way to assist residents and businesses.
He asked council to cut the budget increase by 1.6 per cent, down to a two-per-cent tax hike. His motion was seconded by Coun. Ahmed Yousef, and the two were the only dissenting votes against the budget.
Robson proposed to eliminate tax increases earmarked for infrastructure sustainability (0.7 per cent), parks, recreation and culture (0.6) and storm water management (0.3) for the year.
“It would require no service reductions. Certainly, we have over $100 million in reserve funds,” asserted Robson. “I see our growth this year is already in the bank at $4.9 million, which is far more than this increase. So I want to to make clear we are not reducing taxes, we are reducing the size of the increase, should we pass this.”
“I especially want to point out our small businesses in this town are being decimated, and we’re going to add another tax increase on them,” added Robson. “The merchants are the ones who pay these bills, not the owners of the buildings, and it’s just devastating. I would plead that we not do it.”
Yousef said he simply couldn’t support the budget without seeing relief for residents.
Mayor Mike Morden said he could not support Robson’s approach.
“I get a lot more complaints about demands on growth, and doing that correctly, than I do about our taxes,” said Morden.
There should be ways to help people struggling with their property taxes, such as to defer them, the mayor suggested, saying that those who can’t pay should, “Approach us, and tell us what their situation is.”
Other councillors said delaying the increase could set council up to pass a budget with a much bigger tax hike in future.
Coun. Kiersten Duncan agreed it had been “an incredibly difficult and stressful year on everyone, especially those that are most vulnerable,” such as seniors, single parents, and people on disability income. But she worried that delaying the tax increase would just mean a larger hit later.
Coun. Chelsa Meadus said the city already has gaps in parks and leisure services.
“It’s pay now, or pay later,” she said.
Coun. Judy Dueck echoed those sentiments, saying staff needs to proceed with infrastructure and parks and rec projects in particular. She clarified with staff that there were projects that would not get done if the tax increases were not implemented.
“It’s not as simple as just saying ‘zero,’ it means we’re not doing things that were anticipated in our work plan,” she said.
Robson said he hoped council would reconsider when the budget is back on the agenda in the new year.
Taxpayers will see a total 4.29-per-cent increase for property taxes in 2021, after fees for water, sewer, and recycling are included. Morden noted sewer and water utility fees are set by Metro Vancouver, so Maple Ridge council has no discretion over them.
According to a staff report presented by CFO Trevor Thompson, based on an average residence valued at $699,000, the total property tax and utility increase would mean a bill of $3,497 for property taxes and user fees. This total does not include school levies, BCAA, GVTA, GVRD, or MFA.
It would be an increase of $144 more than 2020, for the average property.
The budget calls for the same 3.6-per-cent property tax increase with each successive budget through 2025.