Maple Ridge council is considering a 2021 budget that would raise property taxes 3.6 per cent, although a some councillors are calling for reductions in spending, to give taxpayers a break during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve been through a couple of days of business planning – lots of significant discussion,” said Mayor Mike Morden following meetings on Monday and Tuesday.
He described it as a “really basic, hold-the-line budget,” and said council may yet get it lower than 3.6 per cent.
“We’ve got to mindful that with COVID it’s been a difficult year.”
Morden noted the 3.6 per cent tax increase would be made up of:
• A general purpose property increase of two per cent,
• An infrastructure sustainability tax increase of 0.7 per cent,
• A Parks Recreation and Culture tax increase of 0.6 per cent, and
• A storm water property tax increase of 0.3 per cent, for a total of 3.6 per cent.
Council is planning the same 3.6 per cent increase for each of the next five years.
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 over 2020, for the average property.
Councillors Gordy Robson and Ahmed Yousef both asked staff to consider allocating less to reserves in order to give taxpayers a break.
“Let’s see what tax relief can be provided for the year 2021,” said Yousef, noting the city has significant reserves.
Robson said the city should be using its amenity charges to developers to pay for recreation projects, and asked staff how much of these funds are in reserve.
“During this COVID time, we should be cutting back everywhere we can,” he said.
Morden noted council raised 64 questions for staff to consider before the next round of budget discussions, scheduled for Dec. 1.
After that, a financial bylaw will come back to council Dec. 8 for approval, for first, second and third reading, and then be considered for final approval in January.
“For 2021, the city expects approximately $4.9 million in new revenue, primarily due to property taxes; both new taxes from development and increases in property taxes,” said the report. “The majority of the additional revenue is used to fund cost increases for existing services, such as labour. A portion of the property tax increase is dedicated to improving the level of infrastructure replacement, drainage infrastructure and Parks and Recreation Master Plan funding. “
City CAO Al Horsman said the coronavirus pandemic response has had a “far-reaching impact on us,” noting it has reduced recreation revenue, eliminated gaming revenue, increased cleaning costs, “and the like.”
The city has received a safe restart grant of $6.4 million from the province to offset costs brought on by the pandemic.