A tempest is brewing between the previous council and the current one over, of all things, spending.
Former Maple Ridge councillor Cheryl Ashlie is defending the record of the past council following criticisms from Mayor Nicole Read and others.
Ashlie is planning a blog called “The Rest of the Conversation,” and has fired back at Read and council via social media, on the Facebook Page informed Citizens of Maple Ridge.
And the mayor is now worried that Ashlie’s position as an assistant to Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows MLA Doug Bing could sour the relationship between city officials and their representative in Victoria.
Read said the last council allowed residential development and population growth without having a means or plan to pay for community amenities such as parks and recreation facilities, and had no way to fund a new pool.
Ashlie said the past council was ahead of other municipalities in infrastructure replacement, and was dealing with other priorities, such as downtown revitalization and transportation infrastructure.
Ashlie said the demand for new recreation infrastructure, and borrowing $110 million for new fields, rinks and a pool, has been created by council’s decision to leave the joint services parks and recreation agreement with Pitt Meadows.
Ashlie believes it was a good deal, and a consultant said it was a very solid model, but needed to be reviewed annually.
She is worried about the impact that borrowing $110 million could have on the tax rate, and how servicing that debt could restrict spending on future priorities.
“Any debt load that goes way into the future, it causes an impact on the tax requirement … I do have concerns,” she said.
Online she posted: “The tax rate that this council is proposing and claiming to be the lowest in years was obtained via lowering the water and sewer portion of the tax rate,” noting that the general purposes tax rate set by this council at 2.1 per cent is actually higher than the previous year’s 1.92 per cent.
She warned that funding for water and sewer infrastructure should not be treated lightly, and that federal support for this work cannot be taken for granted.
Ashlie has also questioned whether this council is discussing issues in public, and insinuated that borrowing $110 million seemingly came out of nowhere. Even the conversations about council removing its support for the Salvation Army Caring Place should have taken place in public, Ashlie asserts.
Only legal and labour issues and land transactions are handled in private council meetings.
“I question governance, and how much is going on behind closed doors,” Ashlie in an interview.
Read said she responded online to Ashlie’s comments, but finds herself in an awkward position.
“I don’t want it to hurt our relationship with the MLA – that’s an important relationship.”
Read stands behind her position that the city has lacked a plan to pay for infrastructure, and that without adequate commercial and industrial development, the city is over-reliant on residential property taxes.
The mayor said she respects Ashlie.
“She has served the city, and has a good understanding of the mechanics … “ said Read.
“This community voted in a new mayor and council for a reason. They wanted change.”
Coun. Corisa Bell, who served on both councils, says Ashlie’s comments about the budget have not all been accurate.
“We’re really working to move Maple Ridge forward as a council and it’s disappointing to see her making comments as she is,” said Bell. “We’re so behind on amenities because of her previous majority councils not requiring developers to contribute as they do in other communities in B.C.”