Pitt Meadows council is working to keep the tax increase under three per cent.
“We are trying to balance competing needs for service with a desire to keep taxes as low as possible,” said Mayor John Becker.
Council has gone through the process of hearing budget presentations from city departments, and is considering budget increases of 2.69 per cent or 2.96 per cent. It will be a tax hike of about $58 for the average single family home.
Becker said much of that is inflationary, with collective agreements for city employees bringing built-in increases.
The city had tax increases of 0.64 per cent in 2017, 2.73 per cent in 2016 and zero in 2015, so the four-year average with 2.96 per cent in 2018 would be 1.58 per cent.
Staff presented a slide that shows with an average bill of $3,008 per year for taxes and utilities for the average single family home, Pitt Meadows is still the lowest in the Lower Mainland.
A one per cent increase means an additional $192,000 in revenue, up from $177,000 last year.
The city will consider increasing seniors services, because right now the seniors activity centre is closed on weekends. It will also $40,000 to the snow removal budget to improve service, and will hire a new city engineer, rather than contracting out for engineering services.
Coun. Bill Dingwall noted that reserves are being spent on the engineer position in order to avoid an additional tax increase of 0.5 per cent, and he said that is an election year measure to keep taxes low. However, he believes the position should be funded out of taxes because it will be an ongoing cost.
Becker noted that the RCMP is presently in collective bargaining, and that will have a future impact. Policing is the city’s single biggest cost.
“We’re likely going to see a significant increase in our cost per cop,” he said.
Because of that, the city will look at alternatives to the RCMP to keep costs low, such as using private security on events like Pitt Meadows Day.
The city is just finishing its first budget year in more than two decades with its own parks and recreation department, and it came in on budget. Council heard 15.5 staff (FTEs) have been hired.
Becker said council does have some big-ticket items in store, as a $10 million new fire hall will be built in the next five years, and the RCMP will look to add three more officers over the next seven years. The cost of an individual officer for salary and other expenses is $150,000 per year.
Becker said the budget should be judged on the value for the dollar. He said there is no point in having low taxes “if infrastructure is going to hell, and crime is rampant because we’re not properly resourcing the RCMP.”
The next step is budget deliberations by council and public input on Jan. 10/11, and the final adoption of the financial plan will be March 20.