A former school board trustee has started a petition calling for the City of Pitt Meadows to put an end to incessant tax increases.
Fed up with annual increases on his property tax bill, Tom Murray plans to rally support from other residents who feel the same way.
“It is getting ridiculous. How can we afford it?,” said Murray, who is retired.
“I’ve decided I’m going to do something about it. It seems like we are their personal piggy bank now. And I don’t like being a piggy bank for anybody.”
Murray’s petition follows a report to council that suggests general taxes will increase about four per cent annually for the next five years.
“It’s tax on tax on tax,” said Murray, explaining that, when added up, the tax increases will total 20 per cent over five years and more than 35 per cent when compared across seven years.
“From 2004 to now, we’ve almost doubled our taxes. What about our retirees, our young families with kids at home?”
Murray wants to reach Pitt Meadows residents before they head out on summer vacations and before council begins planning next year’s budget.
“If we don’t do something now, the tax increase will be more than what’s proposed, and once that’s done, it will be hell of a time to change it.”
Pitt Meadows saw an annual general tax increase of 3.93 per cent this year.
The previous year, the average homeowner saw an increase of 5.95 per cent.
On Tuesday, however, Coun. Bruce Bell proposed a resolution that staff prepare a budget with a tax increase of three per cent instead of four, but was defeated.
“The thought behind it is costs will keep rising and the demand for services will not decline,” said Bell.
“I believe that council should re-examine some of the long-standing practices and assumptions. We need to ensure financial sustainability by efficient and responsible use of the municipal taxes.”
His resolution got support from councillors Janis Elkerton and David Murray, but was defeated after three other councillors and the mayor voted against it.
“In 2008, we had a financial crisis, which was probably as bad as the Great Depression, and we are still recovering from it,” said Elkerton.
“We are still doing practice the same way we have always done it, while the provincial and federal governments are tightening their belts. I know municipalities are challenged, but I’ve heard from a number of citizens about the exponentially increasing taxes.”
Two other municipalities, however, heeded complaints from residents and recently preparing budgets with no tax increases.
West Vancouver adopted a zero-per-cent tax increase for 2012, and Mission is doing the same in 2013.
“I would rather not give any increase, but I’m a realist. I would like to do a better job at advertising how the increases come about,” Coun. Gwen O’Connell said before voting against Bell’s resolution for a lower tax increase.
“Our staff and municipality do a very good job. We are a lean machine,” she added.
“The newspapers and the media publish all the time about how these cities and how the mayor, council and staff are out of control. I don’t think that’s the way it is in our community.”
O’Connell also noted she hasn’t received any negative feedback about property taxes from residents. The only phone call she got this year was from a person who thanked her for the tax bill because they expected the increase to be a lot higher.
The four per cent tax increase was proposed for next year in a report to council by the city’s director finance, Dean Rear.
The increase is based on “broad assumptions” that include maintaining services that are being increasingly stretched as the community grows.
The increase, council noted, was not set in stone, but only a target staff will work with as they prepare next year’s financial plan.
Coun. Doug Bing felt Bell’s resolution to plan for a tax increase of three per cent was an “arbitrary” number.
“We are just picking a number out of the air,” said Bing. “But a lot of time and thought have gone into coming up with the numbers that Dean [Rear] came up with.”
Coun. Tracy Miyashita felt council was setting itself up for failure if staff prepared a budget with a three-per-cent increase, instead of four.
“It’s not that I don’t support low taxes or manageable taxes. I think we are being very unrealistic,” said Miyashita, who also voted against Bell’s resolution.
“We have four per cent in there, but that’s not what our tax [increase] is going to be. It’s just giving up something to play with. I am just going to support it as it stands as we have for years.”
Mayor Deb Walters stressed that city staff have been cautioned to keep next year’s tax increase to a minimum.
“I think it’s too bad that we pick a number of four per cent. I think that this council has delivered a very strong message to our staff and I think that they’ve heard it loud and clear to keep our tax increase as low as they possibly can without cutting services.”
During November’s municipal election, though, Walters seemed open to staff to preparing a budget based on no tax increase – a project suggested by her opponent John Becker.
Becker, who served three terms on council, predicted Bell and Elkerton would find little support on council for a zero-per-cent tax increase exercise.
As a tax-paying resident, he’d be pleased to see the city embrace his idea because the process would respect the economic realities of a good chunk of Pitt Meadows citizens.
“I think people in this community who are on a fixed income, who have lost a job or have seen a stagnation or … a decrease in their wages, deserve to see their circumstances reflected in the budgeting process at city hall,” said Becker.
“I think staff and council should go through the exercise of a zero tax increase and explain to the citizens what that means in the way of cuts to services and capital expenditures.”