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Bid to cut tax hike fails

Richmond city council formally approved a 2.96 per cent tax increase Monday, but not before opponents made a final plea to soften the blow to taxpayers.

Coun. Bill McNulty couldn't gain enough support for his motion to reduce the hike to 1.96 per cent. That would have meant $1.7 million less next year for the city's reserve account, which funds projects such as new facilities and infrastructure replacement.

"You can throw all the water on it you want, but you're not giving the taxpayer a break," he told his council colleagues who voted down the lesser rate 5-3. "I will continually stand up for the taxpayer and I believe we should give them a break."

McNulty pointed to compounding savings from annual budget surpluses—including unspent cash from this year's expected surplus of $6.7 million. Casino revenue is also up, he noted. This year the city is on pace to surpass last year's record $15.6-million take from River Rock Casino Resort.

Businesses and industry will feel a greater pinch from the tax increase, said McNulty, noting businesses pay 3.2 times the residential rate and industry pays 2.6 times.

Coun. Ken Johnston said taxpayers are facing a tough time, and he's concerned the city's predicted tax increases of approximately three per cent are becoming a certainty.

"It becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy that we're just going to hit that target, and we don't achieve anything lower than that," he said. "(A lower tax increase) is not going to crush the reserves in my mind, but what it does do is it sends as message that we're trying to control spending."

Coun. Linda McPhail also backed her Richmond First colleagues. Coun. Derek Dang, who earlier also advocated for a smaller increase, was absent Monday.

Mayor Malcolm Brodie, however, came to council chambers armed with charts illustrating the positive impact new taxes have on the city's coffers. The five-term mayor voted in favour of the 2.98 per cent increase, along with councillors Chak Au, Linda Barnes, Evelina Halsey-Brandt and Harold Steves. Brodie said it's a question of squirreling tax dollars away now or paying more in the future for facilities.

"Do you want to save as much money as possible so you'll have it to apply to facilities, or do you want to raise taxes in the future because you're going to be borrowing more money or you're going to be going without facilities?" he said. "You will never find residents coming up to members of council saying now is the time for a tax. It just won't happen. So there's always times we can make excuses for not putting money away."

Raising taxes—approximately $42 more for the average homeowner—allowed council to approve a $317.2-million operating budget for 2014. Council also gave final approval Monday to the 2014 utilities budgets, which will cost homeowners up to $55 more.

Coun. Evelina Halsey-Brandt said it's "really sexy" to enter an election year advocating for a lower tax increase, but said it's "foolish" to fund projects by borrowing instead of saving.

"I am not willing to leave a debt for my children and grandchildren," she said. "That's what the federal government has done. That's what the provincial government is doing. They borrow money and pay interest on it… Why would I want to do that at the city level when we can plan for it?"

City council did decide Monday to borrow $50 million to pay for a record $185.9-million capital plan for 2014 to take advantage of lending rates staff call "very attractive."

Property tax increases in Richmond

•2014 - 2.96%

•2013 - 2.98%

•2012 - 2.98%

•2011 - 2.94%

•2010 - 3.45%

•2009 - 2.94%

•2008 - 3.92%

•2007 - 3.65%

•2006 - 3.98%

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