Pitt Meadows council has been able to bring in a zero tax increase budget for 2015.
The casualty of the budget was the loss of the Pitt Meadows Economic Development Corporation.
Coun. Janis Elkerton has been involved in municipal politics for 18 years, and never seen no tax increase.
“We campaigned on it because we knew it was do-able,” said Elkerton, who ran on a team with Mayor John Becker and Couns. Bruce Bell, David Murray and Mike Stark during the November municipal election.
“I think it’s important to follow the wishes of our residents,” she added. “It certainly won’t be achievable every year.”
City director of financial services Mark Roberts, who is involved in his second budget with Pitt Meadows, said he has not been involved with a zero budget in his prior 15 years.
“It’s relatively rare, but there are municipalities that have done zeros,” she said. “We’re not the first, but it is rare.”
Mayor John Becker characterized the zero budget as a “stretch goal,” one that council was able to achieve, but also said it was likely “a one off.”
He said council could have actually had a decrease in the tax rate, but voted to put $87,000 back into infrastructure reserves.
The $23.5 million budget will cover all operating expenses and utilities.
Whether there is a reduction in service is open to debate – depending if one accepts that economic development can still be done “in house.”
Coun. Tracy Miyashita was the lone councillor to vote against the budget.
“I am happy about the low taxes – it’s responsive to residents,” she said.
But she couldn’t support removal of economic development to achieve no tax increase.
“I really feel it’s important to attract new business and investment, and to support existing businesses that are struggling. All of that can help keep our taxes low, too.”
Otherwise, she characterized it as an austerity budget, noting that councillors’ salaries were frozen.
“I feel staff really came in with a lean budget – there’s no bells and whistles there.”
The city spent $234,600 for economic development in 2014, and that was “reduced to zero,” Roberts explained.
The city allocated $20,000 to develop a strategic plan for economic development, as a one-time expense.
Coun. Bruce Bell said the city will still work to attract business, and do the other work that the economic development corporation was doing.
“I’ve been asking for three or four years about economic development,” he said. “I questioned how effective it was. There were no key performance indicators.”
He said new businesses often want to speak with the mayor, and Becker will be active in recruiting investors to the city.
“We all need to be cheerleaders for economic development,” said Bell.
“We haven’t sacrificed economic development, we’ve put it into another area,” said Elkerton.
She noted that Port Coquitlam does economic development with city staff and councillors. What’s more, land developer Onni does its own promotion.
She said the budget funds all core services, and allocates money for reserves to maintain infrastructure.
“I’m quite pleased with the budget. It reflects what citizens want.”
Coun. David Murray said the budget debate was respectful. He said members of the election team disagreed on some issues, and voted differently – there was no slate voting.
“The process was the best I’ve been through,” he said.