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Pitt Meadows council opts for higher tax hike
Pitt Meadows council voted in favour of a 1.9 per cent tax increase Tuesday rejecting a proposal by one councillor to further slash the rate change for 2014.
An audible “boo” was heard from the council gallery as Coun. Doug Bing checked in via conference call to participate in the meeting as he was in Prince George on provincial business as the B.C. Liberal MLA for Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows.
As council got set to vote on a bylaw for this year’s budget, Coun. Dave Murray surprised his colleagues with a motion to shave the proposed 1.9 per cent municipal tax increase to one per cent.
“Just how are we going to do that,” asked Coun. Gwen O’Connell.
Council voted against the motion.
The 1.9 per cent increase would add $52 to the tax bill for the average single-family home, valued at $450,000.
Murray proposed the city look at cutting back small items such as grass cutting, janitorial services and scrutinize the services it contracts out, a sum which totalled $2.9 million in 2012.
Although it was supported by Couns. Bruce Bell and Janis Elkerton, Murray’s motion tanked as the rest of council believed 1.9 per cent - the lowest tax increase in the past decade - was as far as the city could go.
Murray, Bell and Elkerton were accused of “political grandstanding.”
“Why wasn’t this brought up before Christmas,” asked Bing, whose comments drew snide laughter from some of the audience. “There was an opportunity for more discussion then.”
Bing is set to leave council Feb. 4 and has publicly stated he stayed on longer to help pass the budget.
Council met for several days in December to decided how to spend tax dollars in 2014 and considered two budgets this year.
One took into consideration a petition signed by 1,500 people – spearheaded by the late Tom Murray and his wife Norma – calling for no tax increase, while the second looked at a total increase of three per cent.
Mayor Deb Walters claimed the three opposing councillors were silent when it was time to vote on the final 1.9 per cent municipal tax increase.
“One would only assume we had consensus,” said Walters.
“We can take away, but we will have to make it up in the future. We have to be stable and steady as we move forward.”
Coun. Bell, however, pointed out that there were 13 motions made during budget planning in December. Most of those votes were defeated - 4-3.
He noted even items that were listed as “no risk” to service levels were dumped back into the budget, costing taxpayers $38,000.
Bell also proposed taking money from the sale of city land in South Bonson to offset taxes, but that too was defeated.
“People seem to have short memories,” he said.
Before she voted against the budget, Elkerton lauded Port Coquitlam for giving its homeowners a modest decrease of 0.34 per cent on their tax bills this year.
“We could still cut more,” said Elkerton, noting the city has budgeted $150,000 for a park at Airport Way and Bonson Road.
A one-per-cent tax increase in 2014 will generate $156,000 in revenue for the city.
“Nothing changed in city hall once we have had the financial crisis in 2008,” said Elkerton, adding that she hasn’t supported a single budget since returning to council in 2011 because she believes the city has to do business in a different way.
“We cannot continue to tax and spend. We have to look for cuts, just like normal families are doing.”
As council began to cast votes in favour or against the financial plan bylaw, Bing’s vote was followed by a cry from the audience of “this is not democracy.”
A visibly annoyed O’Connell told the room she had no problem supporting this year’s budget, even though it was an election year.
“We don’t have the tax base of other communities. We don’t have casinos. We just have hard-working residents,” she said.
“I think sometimes it’s easier to say no than make things work. It doesn’t matter if every year was an election year. What I vote for is because this is what I believe the residents want.”
Only two people spoke during the public input portion Tuesday, one in favour of the 1.9 per cent municipal rate increase and one against it.
“I believe that further reductions can be realized if there is political will,” said Mike Stark, who attended all the budget planning sessions this year.
Andrew Thompson, however, praised the efforts of council and staff, adding that it was “unfortunate” that support was not unanimous.
“Such a tax rate does not rob Peter of the future to pay Paul of the present, but instead ensures Pitt Meadows can grow in a financially sustainable manner,” he said.
“Had this been anything but an election year, it seems to me that the level of support of council would have been much greater ... I hope it won’t be used as a political strategy by some of our councillors in the hopes of being re-elected.”
• A version of this story appear in the print edition of The News with the headline "Pitch for lower tax increase"