Maple Ridge residents should be in for a lower, but steady stream of tax increases for the next five years.
Tuesday, staff presented a projected property tax increase of 3.25 per cent each year, from now until 2018.
Those increases will add up over the five-year-period, but are better than the 3.65 per cent target set by council this past spring.
The projected increase, which still must be confirmed in budget discussions next month, is also a quarter of a per cent lower than last year’s hike.
The 2014 increase includes a 2.2-per-cent hike for general purposes, a 0.5 per cent jump for roads and sewers, 0.3 per cent for drainage and a quarter of a percent increase for implementing the new parks and recreation master plan.
Finance general manager Paul Gill told council that, when preparing the budget, the focus was on major cost drivers that determine the municipality’s spending.
One of those remains the money paid yearly to the RCMP. That’s climbing by almost a million dollars, a seven-per-cent increase.
However, the 3.25-per-cent increase for municipal spending marks a downward trend in the rate of increases, Mayor Ernie Daykin said later.
When sewer, water and recycling increases are added on, the final jump will be 3.75 per cent for the average home.
“We’re managing to provide the services that people expect and want and we’re trying to do that without significant increases.”
Reducing the cuts further would mean cuts in services.
However, when council looks at the plan in December, one of the options will be trimming RCMP costs.
“There are going to be some choices in the budget. It’s the level of service, or not.”
Gill presented a chart that showed several years of higher tax increases in the past decade, when increases for general purposes and infrastructure were routinely four per cent. In 2007, residents were slapped with a total municipal tax hike of more than six per cent.
Last year’s total municipal increase was 3.9 per cent, with water, sewer and recycling charges included, about another $100 for the average Maple Ridge home.
That number should be similar to this year’s.
Coun. Corisa Bell said one of the most common comments she hears from the public is about the salaries paid to municipal employees.
It’s not that people think there are too many staff. Instead, there are, “comments like our CAO makes more than the prime minister of Canada, those types of comments.
“How can we explain this to the public?” she asked.
“Because that’s a huge concern and I hear about that all the time and it would be nice to address it head on.”
Gill told Bell that he couldn’t agree more.
But he said there are limited numbers of senior staff and they have to be accessible all the time.
“So I think that’s a conversation that council needs to have, but it has to be an in-camera session.”
According to statements from last year, Maple Ridge spent $1.5 million more on salaries in 2011 compared to the year before, a 5.5-per-cent increase.
Maple Ridge’s chief administrative officer Jim Rule, in 2011, earned $246,488.
According to the Parliament of Canada website, Prime Minister Stephen Harper will make $320,400 this year.
Gill said when firefighter and police hires are subtracted, over the last four years, between 2009 and 2013, Maple Ridge hired only an additional 21 employees, working out to an increase of 1.25 per cent in staffing per year.
Coun. Cheryl Ashlie though was looking for some benchmarks and standards of service to help guide the district in its financial plans.
What levels of service can Maple Ridge meet with a general municipal increase of 3.25 per cent?
“What does that really mean for our standards of service?”
Can the district still deliver parks and recreation services as its population grows?
“How do we make those decisions?
“Can we sustain a whole social planning advisory section,” and meet a level of service?
The numbers presented were preliminary and will be presented in final form to council in early December.
Gill said if council wants rein in spending, it has to look at the areas where the major increases are occurring, such as the RCMP, the fire department and infrastructure.
In addition to the extra million dollars needed for police, another $875,000 is needed next year for infrastructure, such as roads and sewers, while fire department spending is slated to increase by another $400,000 next year.
Unlike some cities, such as Vancouver, Richmond, Burnaby or Coquitlam, Maple Ridge saw a marginal increase in the commercial/industrial portion of its tax base.