City of White Rock financial services director Sandra Kurylo.

City of White Rock financial services director Sandra Kurylo.

Lower tax hike: White Rock mayor

White Rock's mayor has asked city staff to try and reduce a property-tax increase projected for 2014.

White Rock staff are taking another look at the city’s to-do list following a request by the mayor to try to reduce a property-tax increase projected for next year.

“It seems to me that the 5.25 (per cent) is awfully high,” Wayne Baldwin said in discussing the boost proposed for 2014 during Monday’s finance and audit committee meeting. “I understand there’s good reason for it… What would be the result if you could bring it down two per cent? What would have to go?”

Council members meeting as the committee unanimously supported the request, which followed a report on the 2014-2018 draft general fund operating budget by financial services director Sandra Kurylo.

Kurylo explained that the boost – up from a 3.28 per cent jump that had been projected in the city’s 2013-2017 financial plan – is needed in light of major changes to expected operations and the resources required.

“Since last year, there are a number of new initiatives that the city is facing right now,” Kurylo said. “These are things that weren’t identified when we did the budget last year.”

The most significant initiative included in the draft is the city’s possible purchase of its water utility. Should that proceed, “the city will be borrowing a lot of money,” Kurylo said.

Other factors include suggestions for additional expertise on staff, including someone certified in purchasing. Help is also needed in the engineering and financial services, Kurylo said.

Kurylo noted that when staff first tallied up everything eyed for next year, the corresponding tax increase was 10 per cent.

“We tried to be creative (to bring it down),” she said. “It’s important to show where staff started.”

It was reduced “to something that’s more palatable,” in part through proposed fees and a suggested building-permit increase.

Kurylo said the five-year plan includes $35.5 million in infrastructure improvements and other capital projects – just over $6 million per year (except 2018, when $11.7 million is earmarked for various work, including $4 million for a waterfront parkade).

City hall is a major focus of facility upgrades budgeted for 2014-’15; $500,000 in each of three years for railway safety, with funds to come from accumulated surplus.

Coun. Larry Robinson called the asset-improvement plan “ambitious, aggressive and necessary.”

If council approves a 5.25 per cent property-tax increase, the average homeowner will pay an extra $155 next year; strata owners’ property taxes would climb by about $56. The rates do not include anticipated increases to the city’s sewer and drainage fees.

Property taxes climbed 3.38 per cent in 2013.