Richmond taxes to climb another 3%

Property taxes are expected to climb $50 for the average Richmond homeowner next year after civic politicians endorsed the city's 2013 operating budget Monday.

A 2.98 per cent tax increase is promised in the budget, which Coun. Linda McPhail called "quite reasonable" and one that "puts us in a good place in the region." It's the same increase taxpayers shouldered in the previous year's budget.

One-third of the additional tax will be deposited into an account earmarked for infrastructure replacement, with most of the remaining increase set aside for salaries and climbing RCMP contract costs, according to a staff report.

Unionized workers at city hall and the city's works yard have been without a contract since Dec. 31, 2011. Talks are "ongoing," according to the city, which for now is tucking away $2 million for new salary in 2013—on top of the $2.6 million it set aside in the previous budget.

Staff say the salary increases "have been estimated based ion information currently available." Richmond's CUPE workers could be in line for a similar deal to one reached in Vancouver last month, promising wage hikes of 1.25, 1.75, 1.75 and two per cent over four years.

As for the one per cent tax increase going to reserves—something Richmond has done nearly every year for the past decade—McPhail called the move "very wise."

"It's certainly something we need to do to get ahead of the looming infrastructure challenges we all face."

Council has also added $400,000 to the annual budget to boost its reserve account for fire department vehicles and to bankroll a new $100,000 child care co-ordinator, who will be responsible for planning and developing city-owned child care facilities. The city currently owns five.

Coun. Bill McNulty said the addition of another senior staffer is "long overdue."

"Now child care can be treated (the way) it should have been treated five years ago."

The tax hike, which still requires a final council vote, follows a previously-approved increase in utility rates—raising water, sewer, garbage and recycling fees by up to $76 for homeowners in 2013.

On Monday council also agreed to tap into its expected 2012 budget surplus—about a half-year earlier than usual—by agreeing to another $1.75 million in one-time spending. These projects, which are in addition to the $68.6-million 2013 capital plan, include an $840,000 retrofit at Watermania.

In recent years, the east Richmond pool's mechanical systems have been replaced after premature failure. The new maintenance money will fund new wall panels, paint, slide supports and electrical upgrades.

New city projects for 2013

$840,000: Watermania retrofit

$400,000: Major events (Maritime Festival, Ships to Shore, Hockey Day and tall ships recruitment)

$130,000: Computer software for bylaw tickets, dog licensing

$100,000: Rebuild bleachers at Hugh Boyd oval

$100,000: Museum collections management system

$100,000: Parks maintenance

$75,000: Conservation plans for 17 city heritage buildings

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