A petition asking the City of Pitt Meadows for no increase on next year’s property taxes was accepted by council Tuesday, without a commitment to comply with the request.
Mayor Deb Walters began the city’s regular council meeting with a speech in response to the petition, before it was presented to council, with 900 signatures.
“In the past two weeks, in particular, there has been a lot of interest and discussion around the issue of taxes,” said Walters.
“I want to emphasize to all our citizens regardless of what you have been told: no final decision has been made with regards to taxation rates at this time.”
She assured residents that the tax increase for 2013 would be kept to a minimum.
“We have sent a clear message to staff to bring back a conservative budget without cutting services, provide us with more detail and look at ways to provide more options for public engagement,” she added.
Walters, however could not promise tax payers there would be no increase.
“It’s unrealistic,” she said.
“[The petition] will become part of the report that comes to council as part of the budget process and it will be considered.”
Walters speech failed to placate Tom Murray and his wife Norma, who say they’ve been overwhelmed by the support they’ve received since starting the petition. The signatures were collected in the span of a week, and represent more than the margin by which Walters defeated his nearest challenger, John Becker, in last fall’s municipal election.
Becker campaigned on a promise to present a budget with a zero tax increase.
Despite Walter’s assurances, the Murrays point out that just last week, four councillors passed a resolution for staff to prepare a budget based on a four per cent tax increase each of the next five years.
Walter’s stressed four per cent is just a “guideline.” The final outcome, she added, would be much lower.
“It’s council-speak,” said Norma Murray. “It’s not English. We are not stupid.”
“I think those who have signed the petition are going to wonder what’s going to happen next and they are going to hold them to it.”
Tom Murray and several other residents plan on attending budget workshops, which start in fall, to make sure the city tightens spending.
“There are going to be some fireworks, I really believe it,” Murray added.
“They are saying they know they can’t reach the zero budget. We are going to try and show them they are able to go a whole lot lower. I am really ticked at this point. I want to get to zero.”
According to the city, a one-per-cent tax increase equates to $142,000. To gift residents a “zero” tax increase, Pitt Meadows would have to cut $568,000 from a budget of $20 million.
The Murrays and many who signed the petition want the city to at least go through the exercise of preparing a budget with no tax increase, just to see what it looks like or what services, if any, would need to be cut.
The city, however, says the exercise would be a waste of staff resources.
Instead, Walters will be sending a letter, outlining the city’s stance on taxation, to each of the 900 people who signed the petition.
Two city councillors believe their colleagues should heed the concerns voiced in the petition, instead of dismissing them.
“I would have taken the petition seriously,” said Coun. Bruce Bell. Bell tried to get councillors to support a resolution last week that directed staff to prepare a budget based on a three per cent tax increase, but failed to get enough support to see it pass.
“I am certainly listening to [the petition],” said Coun. Janis Elkerton.
“It’s the same concern that was reflected during the election. We have to cut the taxes. Don’t direct staff to prepare a budget at four per cent when you plan on cutting it anyway. That’s a waste of their time too.”
• Business planning meetings for the City of Pitt Meadows begin Oct. 23 with an eight-month budget review. Presentation to council begin Nov. 20. A formal public consultation meeting on the budget takes place Dec. 11.