The City of Pitt Meadows achieved a rare feat when it passed a budget with a zero per cent tax increase, but the cost was the Economic Development Corporation.
The work that organization had been doing will now be taken on with existing resources – the $312,500 budget for economic development has been reduced to zero.
How effectively the city is able to replace the efforts of the corporation will determine whether or not this was a smart place to cut the budget.
The majority of councillors believe it was a prudent place to trim, but Coun. Tracy Miyashita warns that if the city loses the opportunity to attract new businesses, then cutting economic development will be short sighted.
“Council will have to redefine what economic development means in Pitt Meadows in 2015,” said Mayor John Becker.
Not all of that $312,500 is saved by the city – the municipality gave the corporation $234,500 in 2014, and the rest of its funding came from other sources.
For 2015, $20,000 has been budgeted for the city to devise a strategic plan for economic development.
He said the city will look closely at Port Coquitlam.
“They don’t put a dime into economic development, per se,” said Becker.
The approach there is to look after the commercial taxpayer, and streamline approvals processes. The city strives to do a great job for the development community, and they become PoCo’s best ambassadors, said Becker.
He sees it as a school of thought Pitt Meadows should borrow.
“That’s one model that will be on the table,” he said.
Becker said the city’s economic development work was once led by an advisory committee – he served on it as a councillor more than 10 years ago, when the group was still in its early days. Such a committee could be considered again.
Members of the defunct corporation’s board would be obvious candidates as members.
Local businessman Dan Kosicki served on the volunteer board that oversaw the corporation when it first started six years ago, serving a term as vice-chair.
He said the board was a group of local business people with impressive backgrounds in commerce, and they were working as volunteers. Such a group is valuable to the city, he asserts.
“Why the new council could not keep the directors on, or [appoint] new directors, remains puzzling,” he said. “When you have the opinions, comments, and even criticisms from a diverse group of local business owners and managers, where is the downside?”
The volunteer board was replaced by council in December, and some council observers accurately predicted that would mean the end of the corporation.
But council, as a group, does not have the diverse business experience of the former board, said Kosicki.
“They were elected and I totally respect the outcome. We were an easy mark to help deliver the zero budget,” said Kosicki. “Why not cut parks and leisure? There are many private gyms and weight training businesses – just as an example of something that is not essential.
Both men agree that the one big job remaining in economic development is the North Lougheed Corridor – a strip of commercial properties on Lougheed Highway at Harris Road. That project is being driven by developer SmartCentres.
“The ball is very much in city council’s court, as to how that proceeds,” said Becker.
The Onni Group has its own rental agents trying to bring commercial tenants to the Golden Ears Business Park on Airport Way.
“Other than that, there ain’t a whole lot of land available,” said the mayor.
Kosicki offered a similar assessment.
“The major issues moving forward are the lack of land, and the North Lougheed area,” he said. “This ties into our transportation issues and potential development – which generates property tax revenue and local jobs.
“The majority of council campaigned on zero increase, and they delivered,” he added.
“It is still my town and I will continue to build and support good, balanced growth and our way of life.”
The citizens of Pitt Meadows spoke through a petition organized by the late Tom Murray, asking for a zero per cent tax increase. That was the summer of 2012. In November of that year, Murray presented a list of 1,300 names to council.
Murray had been moved to action after a city staff report informed council that tax increases would be about four per cent annually for the coming five years. City taxes had just risen almost 10 per cent in two years.
His wife Norma was pleased with the result for 2015.
“It makes me happy to witness Tom’s dream come true and an opportunity to thank everyone who supported him in his endeavour,” she said. “A special thanks to Mayor John Becker, who was true to his word and to the council members who voted in support of zero per cent for 2015.”