After an hour of discussion, debate and speeches, Maple Ridge city council stuck with a financial plan that will see residents get a 4.3 per cent increase in their tax bill for 2021.
That includes a 3.6 per cent property tax increase, as well as utility increases for water, sewer, and recycling.
At Tuesday night’s online meeting, council gave the first three readings to the financial plan bylaws.
Coun. Gordy Robson tried unsuccessfully to make an amendment, which was seconded by Coun. Ahmed Yousef, to pare down the increase from 4.3 to 2.7 per cent.
Robson, told council that since 2003 the city has been charging “significant development cost charges” (DCCs) to builders, and these are designed to pay for infrastructure. Since that time, the city has also added community amenity contributions (CACs) as another fee for developers. He said the goal was to lower taxes, but the additional funds have been absorbed into budgets.
“What seems to have happened is we’re now getting those costs, and this year we got some $30 million in DCCs and CACs, but it doesn’t seem to have lowered the taxes any, it seems to be added on.”
“I believe my job is to try and keep the taxes as low as possible,” he said. “Raising taxes on our existing residents should be our last resort.”
He again made the point that COVID-19 has hurt the local economy, and said city reserves should be used to keep the tax increase low.
“If there was ever a year we should be backing up on taxes, and keeping our taxes as low as possible, without cutting any of our existing services, this is the year to do it,” said Robson.
He and Yousef spoke in favour of eliminating the budget increases of 0.7 per cent for infrastructure replacement, 0.6 per cent for recreation, and 0.3 per cent for drainage.
“This year, even moreso than last year, is when our residents need us to have their backs, to step up, bite the bullet if we need to, and make those significant changes in order to be there for that relief,” said Yousef.
They lost the matter on a 4-2 vote. Coun. Kiersten Duncan was absent.
Coun. Ryan Svendsen said low tax rates under previous councils have put the city behind on infrastructure, so the capital reserves will be necessary.
“That may be why we are in the position we are now as a community, of the size we are, with one little pool, no municipal ice rinks to speak of, and probably under served on park space.”
He said the city experts have said the city needs continued funding to maintain $1 billion worth of infrastructure.
“It is being suggested to cut that increase or kick that increase down the road, for a future council to handle to get it back on track, and I believe that is lacking in principle,” said Svendsen. “If you want to cut taxes, you’re going to have to make the difficult decision to cut services.”
Coun. Chelsa Meadus said councillors have to make unpopular decisions.
“The popularity contest is over, it ended when we had the election, and councillor Dueck kicked all of our butts,” she said. “Now it’s time to make the different and difficult decisions.”
Meadus said council has been put in a tough financial position because of $2 million spent on the Anita Place homeless camp, the tax impact of Hammond Cedar closing and the loss of gaming revenue.
Mayor Mike Morden said council can’t undo its plans – the budget was set in January – midway through a budget year.
“I’m voting for our strategic plan, I’m voting to continue on with my colleagues doing what the public asked us to do,” said Morden. “And I know that 3.6 per cent is difficult for some, but I’m not prepared to make service cuts over it. I’m not prepared to carve out public safety, or take out firefighters or custodial services, given covid. Can you imagine not cleaning our buildings properly in the middle of a pandemic.”
Morden noted that increases in contracts with unionized employees and spending on Metro projects mean much of the budget increase is not discretionary.
He said council will need to have discussions about how to use DCCs and CACs in budgeting in the future.
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