A petition calling for no tax increase in the City of Pitt Meadows next year is gathering steam after more than 300 residents signed their names to it in the span of three days.
Tom Murray spent much of that time outside the IGA Supermarket, pitching his protest to shoppers who are tired with annual increases on their tax bills.
In addition to the signatures on the petition, 97 letters were delivered to city hall.
“They’ve heard some complaints now and they are going to hear a lot more,” said Murray.
“People are fed up, and when I get fed up, I try to do something.”
Murray started the petition last week after hearing that councillors were getting ready to plan next year’s budget with a forecast of an annual general tax increase of four per cent for the next five years.
Some councillors, however, want Murray to “get the facts straight” before he winds up the populace to revolt.
“Everyone has the right to their own opinion,” said Mayor Deb Walters, who ran into Murray on the weekend and told him to remind people that residents of Pitt Meadows pay the third lowest tax in Metro Vancouver and that factors out of council’s control influence the annual increase.
“They should have all the information before they sign their name to any petition,” Walters said.
Last week, Walters and three other councillors – Doug Bing, Gwen O’Connell and Tracy Miyashita – voted against a proposal by Coun. Bruce Bell to plan the budget on a three per cent increase.
Walters wants the city to contact everyone who signs the petition via email, at the very least, and send them information on the budget process.
“This is just the start. No decision has been made. Not four per cent, not one per cent, not zero,” she said, although a staff report estimated the increases.
“We are just moving forward in our business planning process. We’ve asked staff to come back with as low an increase as possible without cutting services.”
However, Walters reminds residents that costs have gone up.
“A foot of piping costs more than it did a year ago. Even if you contemplate zero, you will have to cut something,” she said.
Walters said just a few weeks ago, Murray was requesting the city install speed bumps and a crosswalk in his neighbourhood.
“All those things come at a price,” she added.
However, several cities have recently implemented zero tax increase budgets, prompting Murray and his supporters to believe the task can be achieved if council and staff put their minds to it.
The District of Mission whittled down its budget for 2012 by paring back on small things such as reduced hours at the RCMP’s front desk, no council salary increases and eliminating a part-time clerical position for the mayor. Cuts were made, but Mission still serviced its debt.
The City of Penticton did something similar.
Coun. Doug Bing, however, believes Mission council was playing politics when it approved a zero tax increase budget.
“They are a new council and really have no clue what’s going on there,” said Bing.
“It is very easy for them to come in and make these great pronouncements, but they really don’t know what they are getting themselves into.”
Bing, too, hopes residents of Pitt Meadows educate themselves about the budget process before signing the petition.
“We always love feedback. However, I think that again we are focusing on the number. They don’t see the whole picture,” Bing added.
“Leadership isn’t easy, sometimes we have to do what’s right and not what’s popular. We have to look at what’s best for the whole community in the future, not at this particular time with a large group lobbying.”
Coun. Tracy Miyashita, meanwhile, wonders what services Murray would cut if he were in their shoes.
“I would ask him what hours should be run the fire department, what days of the week does he want police here and should we restrict the number of times a day we can flush our toilet? said Miyashita.
“I think people are misinformed. I don’t think they are realizing what a zero per cent tax increase means. What would you cut? Because I think we get a lot of bang for our buck here.”
Coun. Bruce Bell, however, would like to see staff prepare a budget based on a zero tax increase, just to see what it would mean in terms of loss of services.
“I am not for cutting services at this time. I think we need to have a look at it, that’s all I am suggesting,” he said.
Although Bell’s resolution for a three per cent tax increase budget was defeated last Tuesday, he found support from councillors Janis Elkerton and Dave Murray.
Elkerton doesn’t like to see council split on decisions.
“Four-three splits are not good decisions,” she said.
“When people say nobody is complaining, I think that’s untrue. I think we have to be realistic as politicians and put ourselves in our community’s boots and say, ‘We can’t do this anymore.’”
• See a related editorial: Just try no tax