City of White Rock’s 2018-2022 draft financial plan calls for tax increases starting with a close to four per cent bump next year.
While the public was invited to make submissions at the Dec. 11 finance committee meeting, only three residents provided comment. Council later called on staff to schedule readings for a financial plan bylaw, including a public hearing, in the new year.
Prior to public input, financial services director Sandra Kurylo outlined a version of the draft plan, which calls for a property tax increase for 2018 of 3.97 per cent. This, she said, equates to an increase of $136 on an average detached home, or $34 on an average strata property.
The plan outlines future projected tax increases of 3.02 per cent (2019), 2.88 per cent (2020), 2.76 per cent (2021) and 2.93 per cent (2022).
Also planned to increase next year are the secondary-suite service fee (by $10), the solid waste user fee (by $1) and summer waterfront parking rates (25 cents an hour).
“I’m not going to comment on the fact that this meeting is being held at two o’clock on the afternoon of an election day (South Surrey-White Rock federal byelection Dec. 11), when people are at work and busy voting,” said longtime council critic Garry Wolgemuth, who questioned the use of community amenity contributions (CACs) from a spate of development planned for the city, noting that “work has to be done for infrastructure, water mains, sewer mains.”
“Where it falls off the cliff is when we start spending this money that could be used for police vehicles, fire vehicles, city vehicles, and we build a big park and a big parkade for visitors and restaurant owners who might sell the extra gelato or a meal in the heaviest traffic times in the year,” he said. “This money could be spent for infrastructure and amenities that could benefit the whole city and not just a special group.”
Following comment from Mayor Wayne Baldwin that “there seems to be a misunderstanding of what CACs can… be used for,” Kurylo confirmed they cannot be used to purchase emergency vehicles or to replace water mains.
“They have to be used for providing amenities and facilities and new things for the public… such as extending walkways and purchasing parkland; purchasing public art and things like that,” Kurylo said.
It was a meeting that only grew combative during remarks from resident Roderick Louis, who asked repeatedly if the city intended to develop a list of “formal municipal objectives” that would be subject to scheduled review, in keeping with B.C.’s Community Charter.
Louis was warned by committee chair Megan Knight to “please keep it civil” and confine comments to the financial plan, after he went on a tirade against the “lack of a comprehensive waterfront plan” as called for by the city’s May 2009 strategic economic development plan.
“Council has a propensity to pick and choose their own objectives, not city objectives… their own priorities, some would say ego projects, monuments to themselves that create headaches for them and angst in the community… the $12-million highrise parkade on the waterfront, the $6-million upgrade of Memorial Park, a $15-million land-creation project on the waterfront,” Louis said.
He was not satisfied with comments from city manager Dan Bottrill that the annual report, as called for in the Community Charter, does “include a number of priorities and city objectives.”
“Priorities are not objectives,” Louis repeated during Bottrill’s answer, before Knight interjected “that’s enough – please sit down.”
Resident Mike Pearce, a former mayor of both Penticton and Quesnel, urged council to take Louis’s comments seriously.
“He’s speaking as a citizen and he has spent hundreds of hours developing his questions,” Pearce said. “He’s genuinely, in his mind, bringing forward issues to you in the best way he knows how.”
Pearce asked if council had attempted to build the budget as a “zero-based budgeting exercise.” Citing the planned 3.97 per cent tax increase, Pearce said “what I used to do was go back to staff and pick another number – like 1.97 per cent – and ask them to run through the numbers.”
Pearce also questioned the wisdom of using CACs to bolster city budgeting.
“I think they’re a trap – because when you are cash-starved, they’re easy to work their way into the hardcore things in the budget, and then you have to keep on and keep on with developers so you can get those,” he said.
A rise in RCMP contract costs would account for almost a third of next year’s tax increase, according to Kurylo’s presentation. This includes two new police officers scheduled to start at the beginning of July. The city is also considering adding a firefighter, a human-resources assistant, a freedom-of-information clerk, an RCMP administrative clerk and four parks labourers.