Tom Murray presents a petition calling for a zero tax increase at a council meeting in November.

Pitt taxes going up

Pitt Meadows effort to show budget with no tax increase, despite petition

A proposed tax increase of three per cent in Pitt Meadows isn’t being welcomed by a pair of seniors who’ve petitioned the city for no spike on their municipal bills next year.

Preliminary estimates predict 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 estimates come as the city begins its business planning process to figure out spending and expenses for 2013.

Though low, the proposed increase is being panned by Tom and Norma Murray. The couple presented a petition with 1,300 signatures to council earlier this month, accompanied by speeches imploring the city to rein in spending and give property owners tax relief in 2013.

A former school board trustee, Murray started the petition in July after a staff report to council suggested general taxes will increase about four per cent annually for the next five years.

Fed up with annual tax increases, Murray wants the city to follow West Vancouver and Mission, cities which saw no increase in taxes in 2012. Abbotsford is also attempting a “near zero” tax increase for 2013.

At the very least, Murray wanted the city to complete a zero-increase exercise, just to see where fat in the budget could be trimmed.

“I’m still going to fight for zero,” said Murray.

“I’m not saying we can reach that, but we haven’t even tried.”

Murray and a group of concerned residents intend to attend budget meetings and scrutinize city spending. They also plan to recommend where money can be saved, eyeing staff salaries and the city’s reserves.

“Now we get the opportunity to sit down during the budget meetings and try to achieve a zero,” said Murray, who urged everyone who signed the petition to attend the sessions.

A one per cent municipal property tax increase (for all classes) raises approximately $153,000 in revenue for the city, which has a proposed budget of $20 million in 2013.

Couns. Bruce Bell, Janis Elkerton and Dave Murray supported the petition’s call for a zero tax exercise.

Elkerton noted even the City of Vancouver is aiming for one of the lowest tax increases in the region.

“Everybody is getting the message [that] the public is fed up,” said Elkerton.

Her colleagues, however, believe it would be a waste of staff time and unrealistic to aim for no tax increase in 2013.

Mayor Deb Walters assured residents that council has heard their calls for restraint.

“Staff was directed right from the get-go to work hard to keep it down,” she said.

“Will we settle on what staff have recommended? Not necessarily.”

Walters welcomed more participation in the budget process and stressed the city is constantly trying to find other sources of revenue.

“We are going to keep going after development and diversify the tax bases, keep meeting with investors and go after all the grants we can,” she said.

Budget time

The city is now in the process of business planning for 2013. Presentations will be held at city hall in Pitt Meadows Dec. 5, 6, and 11 and will include highlights of each department’s business plan, an overview of the City’s financial plan and related tax issues. All meetings are open to the public. There will also be a formal public consultation meeting at an open house on Dec. 11 at 5 p.m.

Business plans will also be available online and in print at the library for the public to review.

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