The City of Pitt Meadows may follow its neighbour Maple Ridge, which experimented with social media during a budget meeting on Monday, allowing people to comment on how their tax dollars are spent from the comfort of their couches.
“I think that’s a fabulous idea,” said Mayor Deb Walters, adding it’s something her city will explore next year.
Unlike Maple Ridge, which engaged taxpayers by live streaming its budget discussion via the district website, Pitt Meadows’ opportunity for public input had to be delivered in person.
Around 10 people attended Tuesday’s budget open house, but only one person asked a question.
The sparse turnout surprised Walters, who expected a larger crowd and more questions, especially since a petition calling for no tax increase has made the rounds in the city since summer.
“It was quite disappointing because we were all ready for input,” she said.
However, Norma Murray, one half of the husband and wife duo who spearheaded the tax petition, believes 5 p.m. was a terrible time to host an open house.
“No one is home from work,” said Murray.
Walters thinks the criticism is unfair. People could have commented online.
“People will always have a problem with the way we do it, what time we do it and month we do it,” she said.
“It is wonderful to ask the questions through the media, but if you don’t come to the source, I don’t think that’s fair. Ask us. Meet with us.”
To prevent another showdown next year, Walters will be asking staff to present property tax bills differently to show people how much money the city actually keeps versus what goes to other governments.
“I think our staff have done a marvellous job bringing back a conservative budget. They heard us,” she added.
“It is going to be tough going through and taking things out. Are there things that can be taken out? Possibly.”
Pitt Meadows is proposing a general tax rate increase of 2.13 per cent and a strategic capital adjustment of one per cent.
For the average homeowner, with a property valued at $383,716 that means a total tax increase of 3.13 per cent, or less than $50, next year.
The proposed 2013 capital budget is just over $12 million, of which almost half relates to upgrade and replacement of the city’s drainage infrastructure
The city will finalize the increase next week.
One councillor, though, concurs with residents who want the city to hold their budget meetings in January after the busy Christmas season.
Coun. Janis Elkerton said she’ll be suggesting the city change its budget schedule.
“It would be nice to get more involvement,” said Elkerton.
Coun. Bruce Bell, too would like to see more participation and hopes the city can follow Maple Ridge’s example by embracing social media next year.
The second term councillor said it’s the first time he’s seen so much interest from taxpayers.
“I do see a change. I see more public input, I see my peers listening and thinking about it,” he added.
“The public has the council’s attention in Pitt Meadows.”
Bell, however, isn’t satisfied with the proposed 3.1 per cent municipal tax increase, which nears five per cent when Metro Vancouver hikes are tacked on. He wants the city to pare its share down some more.
“I think we can do a little better [than 3.1],” said Bell.
“And I’m hopeful we can.”