Maple Ridge council passes budget with 3.3 per cent hike

Covers two new hires in Maple Ridge social planning department.

Maple Ridge council is debating whether to spend $195

It’s all going according to the five-year financial plan, followed by the City of Maple Ridge and which sets this year’s total tax increase at 3.38 per cent.

That means by next July, owners of average priced homes will see another $93 in property taxes and utilities on their 2017 bill.

Council gave third reading to the plan last week, but not before a divisive debate on whether the budget should include $195,000 in new spending – to hire two people to work in the city’s social planning department.

Their duties would be dealing with the homeless, mentally ill, poor and addicted people in the city.

Council decided earlier just to set aside the money in the budget, then discuss later how or if to spend it.

Council was still split on whether to spend that on what some consider provincial responsibilities.

“As soon as other levels of government start stepping into other areas … it makes it very hard to make other levels of government accountable,” said Coun. Tyler Shymkiw, who voted against the budget.

People don’t know who to vote for, he added.

But Coun. Kirsten Duncan said she could speak until she was “blue in the face” in support of spending the $195,000 to support staff whose jobs are dealing with homelessness, in addition to other duties.

Mayor Nicole Read said the city already spends money in other areas that are not typically municipal, such as paying for police to deal with mental health issues or for the work that bylaw officers do dealing with homelessness.

‘Mandate creep’ is an issue, she agreed.

It would take a lot of courage if the city decided not to address any social issues, she added.

Coun. Craig Speirs supported the extra expense.

“I think it’s exactly what we have to do. We’ve been abandoned by senior government and we can’t abandon our citizens. And voting against this means you’re abandoning our citizens to whatever happens. I don’t think we have an engaged senior government and I don’t think we’re going to get one, anytime soon.”

Coun. Gordy Robson and Shymkiw voted against the budget, which still received a majority in favour.

“I don’t think the parks and recreation department should be in the social engineering business,” Robson said later.

“I just think we’re crossing a line here when we’re moving social planning into our parks and recreation department.”

If approved later, the $195,000 would come out of a reserve fund for this year only.

Maple Ridge’s budget, titled Financial Plan 2017-2021, includes other major amounts of new spending.

One is advancing the hiring of four RCMP officers in 2017, at a cost of $300,000, although that would be paid for out of the police reserve fund.

Another chunk of new spending is for hiring six new people, from an engineer, inspector and supervisor, to work in development services, or building department. That will cost $650,000, but will be paid for from cash that’s rolling in from building permit fees. That’s almost tripled in the last five years to an annual take of $3.4 million.

Other new spending:

• $40,000 for its electronic document management program;

• $50,000 for archival preservation and storage of city documents, to be spent over five years;

• $90,000 for developing the city’s new tourism marketing plan;

• $80,000 to expand information technology services.

Council meetings are now live-streamed, bylaw offices work on weekends and the Leisure Centre is open until 10 p.m., all of which require tech support.

Also proposed is $50,000 for “retention and attraction initiatives,” to help with retaining staff as people retire.

Also, $175,000 is budgeted for training Maple Ridge firefighters at the Justice Institute of B.C.

Until now, the city has received free firefighter training at the institute in return for providing its old fire-fighting equipment for training. But the Justice Institute now wants to be paid.

Despite the new spending, of about $383,000, the city will still finish in 2017 with about $104,000 in its general revenue fund, down from $487,000.

Maple Ridge’s recreation department, in 2017, will skate by with 22 fewer employees, the result of the splitting the joint Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows recreation department.

While Maple Ridge will save the salary costs of those employees, it no longer will receive the payment from Pitt Meadows that helped with the costs.

The total 2017 tax increase of 3.38 per cent includes only a 1.9-per-cent increase in general taxes. Automatic increases in infrastructure replacement, parks and rec, and drainage bring the total property tax increase to 3.15 per cent.

However, hikes in recycling fees, water and sewer charges, result in a total average increase of 3.38 per cent in property taxes and utilities above last year.

With skyrocketing property values in Metro Vancouver in the past year, homeowners in Maple Ridge whose properties have jumped beyond the average increase will see higher than average tax increases.

The budget also includes a hypothetical scenario of how a zero per cent tax increase would affect the city.

For one, to bring in the RCMP budget in at the same as last year would see five fewer officers on Maple Ridge streets.

Final reading of the budget is in January.


Budget items

Other highlights of the Financial Plan 2017-2021:

• Maple Ridge has earned $660,000 in six years from gambling revenue from the city’s 10-per-cent share of the slot machine revenue from Chances Maple Ridge (it’s expected that the city will take in $1 million a year from the gaming centre);

• spending on RCMP is jumping by $725,000 – to $19 million in 2017 because of wage raises and overhead;

• Maple Ridge city saves $32,600 a year in gasoline costs because of its fleet of hybrid cars and SUVs;

• the installation of a white roof on top of the Ridge Meadows RCMP building will save “significantly” on AC costs;

• the ending, in October 2016, of the joint parks and rec agreement with Pitt Meadows “has improved service to our citizens”;

• Maple Ridge is saving about $240,000 a year in electricity costs because of energy-saving lights and HVAC;

• $3 million will be spent next year for converting the gravel surfaces into artificial pitches at Albion Sports Complex, the cost of which is outside the recreation infrastructure rebuilding that’s currently being considered.


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