Maple Ridge city council has approved a property tax bill increase of 4.4% for both 2022 and 2023.
Council had a 2022-2026 financial plan that called for increases of 3.6 per cent each year, and then was hit with an additional 1.6 per cent tax increase for a new RCMP contract – needed to raise and additional $1.6 million in annual costs.
Rather than raise the tax bill by 5.2 per cent for the coming year, council agreed to divide the increase in half for each of the next two years, adding an additional 0.8 per cent to the 3.6 per cent for 2022 and 2023.
A staff report noted the official costs of police retroactive pay and ongoing costs have not yet been announced. It is the national police force’s first union contract, and was settled at a higher rate than the city anticipated.
“RCMP members had not seen a wage increase since 2017, and were not paid as well as their peers,” noted the report from director of finance Trevor Thompson. “The resulting RCMP wage increase over this six-year period is 23.77 per cent.”
Coun. Ahmed Yousef noted the city has $12.8 million in a police services reserve, and council agreed with a staff proposal to take $6 million from the reserve for retroactive costs of the RCMP contract.
Yousef proposed council dip into the reserve more, to cover some of the $1.6 million in annual costs, but was not supported by his council colleagues. Yousef asked about taking an additional $800,000 from the reserve, then setting the city tax bill at four per cent in 2022 and 2023.
Thompson said drawing down the reserve would leave the city no flexibility to address other issues that may come up.
Mayor Mike Morden noted the RCMP detachment is about to go through de-integration, meaning there will be separate detachments for both Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, rather than one serving both cities. That will mean 23 members of the Ridge Meadows detachment will be leaving, and Morden should be able cover unforeseen costs. The de-integration will happen in late 2024 and 2025.
Coun. Judy Dueck said she wanted the added expense to be clear on tax forms, as the city has no choice but to pay the policing bill.
“When you’re dealing with a contract that is governed by a larger body, at the end of the day we have to pick up the costs that go with that,” she said, adding cities across the country will be grappling with this higher policing cost.
Coun. Chelsa Meadus noted the city knew the RCMP increase was looming, and prepared with reserves.
“Luckily for this city, we did save for a rainy day, knowing this was coming,” she said.
She noted the city may need more officers, because of a decision to put funds for RCMP officers into its Community Safety Officers program.
Meadus said the city needs more commercial development to increase the tax base.
“That’s going to be our only way to maybe maintain, because we certainly don’t want people to be having to leave their house because they can’t afford the taxes here,” she said.
She blamed much of the city tax increase on senior government downloading, and said the city should advocate for more support from senior government.
“We’re not a rich municipality. We are very low on the corporate and commercial tax base, unlike a lot of our neighbours, and so we’re kind of drowning here…” she said.
Morden noted the there may be an opportunity to lower the tax increase in April, as the fuller financial picture is known.
Council gave the 2022-2026 financial plan first, second and third readings, and it can be amended at any time. The next planned amendment is April 2022.
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