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White Rock city staff told to rethink property tax hike
A recommendation this week to boost White Rock property taxes by 4.57 per cent over last year did not sit well with the city's new mayor.
"My first suggestion is the property tax increase… is too high," Wayne Baldwin said Monday, during a review of the 2012-2016 draft financial plan by the city's finance and audit committee.
"I wouldn't want to see it any higher than 2.5 per cent. My suggestion to staff is to find a way to bring it down."
The comments followed a "Coles notes" version of the draft presented by financial services director Sandra Kurylo, who explained a 4.57 per cent increase would translate to $119 extra for the average single-family home, and a $50 jump in taxes for the average strata property.
Surrey council in January approved a property-tax increase of 2.9 per cent for its residents in 2012.
Baldwin told Peace Arch News the proposed increase for White Rock – which is less than one per cent greater than the 3.91 per cent imposed last year – isn't appropriate in these tight financial times.
"At this time, with the economy the way that it is, it's just not the way to be going," he said.
The increase – which is anticipated to drop in each of the next four years, to a low of 2.54 per cent in 2016 – was proposed to generate funds for the city's $26.8 million 2012 general operating budget, a figure that is up $1 million from 2011.
As proposed, it funds some costs that are "beyond the city's control," Kurylo told the committee, citing as examples an estimated $100,000 required for bylaw enforcement, a $157,600 increase in the city's RCMP contract and an additional $196,400 that will be needed to fund changes to the city's solid-waste management program.
The latter, Kurylo said, has "such an impact on the budget," she recommended the figure be shown on a separate line in the interest of transparency.
Other new or enhanced services that would be funded by the boost are an increase to the city's communications officer's hours, increased community policing, an additional police officer, increased hours for the city's employee health and safety advisor and more road-line painting and crack-sealing.
A proposed additional $50,000 in public art funding would come from a reserve, Kurylo noted.
Reductions suggested by staff to offset the additional costs include not renewing the city's funding contribution to the Community Schools Partnership, not staffing the environmental co-ordinator position, reducing human resources casual staff hours, not proceeding with a customer satisfaction survey in 2012 and slightly reducing the amount of general revenue allocated to capital projects.
In discussing the draft, committee members went through the document page-by-page, questioning what certain funds were for and suggesting others be eliminated.
Coun. Larry Robinson asked about the increased funding for bylaw enforcement, which Kurylo explained was largely the result of having to correct an error made last year. Of the approximately $100,000 budgeted for 2012, $75,000 should have been budgeted last year, but was missed, Kurylo said.
Robinson predicted a 36 per cent increase to funds budgeted for garbage, recycling and green waste – to a total $1,523,200 in 2012 – will raise residents' eyebrows.
"I just have a feeling we're going to get hit by the citizens as to why," he said.
Asked if contracting out the services was considered, the city's director of engineering and municipal operations, Rob Thompson, said research determined that keeping the services in-house would save the city "hundreds of thousands" of dollars.
Other suggestions to reduce the city's overall costs included asking Fraser Valley Regional Library to hold the line on its annual levy, which is projected to increase by 0.2 per cent, to $810,862 for 2012; and to not proceed with such items as a leisure services master plan, budgeted to cost $8,000.
A motion to "give staff guidance" to reduce the property tax increase to 2.5 per cent received support from all committee members in attendance but one. Coun. Louise Hutchinson wanted staff to come back with budgets showing the difference of reducing the increase by one, two and three per cent.
Coun. Al Campbell was not at the meeting due to vacation.
Robinson said he supported the motion because taxpayers need to know the effort is being made to keep costs down.
"We're setting the bar, and I think we have to show the taxpayers in these times we're going to make an attempt," Robinson said.
Of projects listed in a report on the general fund asset improvement budget, the committee suggested holding off on such items as seabed dredging of White Rock pier and replacing the Kent Street Activity Centre auditorium floor, but boosting the priority of plans to improve Marine Drive between High and Bishop streets.
Both Baldwin and Robinson described that stretch of Marine as one of the city's worst stretches of road.
"If there was some way we could move that forward, I think the whole city would benefit," Robinson said.
Recommendations to boost the city's sanitary sewer and drainage utility fees by two per cent each received unanimous support Monday.
The sewer fee boost, which translates to a $5 jump for both residential and commercial (from $237 to $242 and from $250 to $255, respectively), is mainly to fund increases in the Greater Vancouver Sewerage and Drainage District, a report states. The levy for 2012 is estimated to be $1,214,990 – an increase of 5.3 per cent over what the city paid in 2011.
The drainage fee increase is largely related to asset improvements and system upgrades, and means a jump of about $2 (from $77 to $79) for strata properties and $6 (from $277 to $283) for typical single-detached homes.
The committee is to consider a revised draft on Tuesday (March 6). The public is invited to comment at a 7 p.m. March 12 in council chambers.
The property tax rate bylaw must be adopted by May 15.