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Taxes up 2.42% in Coquitlam
The good news: Coquitlam property taxes will go up less than they did last year.
The bad news: Coquitlam property taxes are still going up.
On Monday, city council voted to hike property taxes by an average of 2.42% for all classes. Property taxes for commercial property owners will go up 1.8% while taxes for residential properties will rise 2.8%. (Last year's overall increase was 2.95%.)
For those living in a home with the statistically average assessed value of $587,500, the increase will translate to around $2,927 in taxes and utilities next year, including a $57 jump in taxes plus another $13 for water and an additional $15 for sewer and drainage (the latter two increases are determined by Metro Vancouver).
But the city is claiming a net increase of $15, with council pointing to a 20% drop in garbage collection fees next year — from $349 to $279 — as a result of the new solid waste contract that begins in July 2014. As well, the city will not be handling recycling collection, which is expected to be done by Multi-Material BC starting in May.
Council also kept taxes under the 3% mark by not hiring the four Mounties Supt. Claude Wilcott had requested last month; Coquitlam will hire two new officers at a cost of $291,000. (Wilcott was unavailable for comment on Tuesday but a police spokesperson said the detachment "appreciates the city's support").
Council also denied a request by the city's strategic initiatives general manager to add a 1% tax hike for each of the next four years to create a new "facility periodic component replacement fund" (an account to pay for roof and boiler upgrades at city facilities); the renewal reserve will only see a $200,000 contribution next year.
And requests by Place des Arts and Evergreen Cultural Centre to study possible expansion were also turned down. Instead, council voted to spend $100,000 on a new arts, culture and heritage strategic plan.
Place des Arts had asked for $1.5 million for pre-construction work at its Maillardville hub but with council's decision on a new study, PdA executive director Joan McCauley said the city has stalled its plans.
"We will defer to the city and cooperate with whatever they need," she said Tuesday, "but we will still be moving forward with our vision."
Responded Mayor Stewart: "We want to make sure the horse is pulling the cart — not pushing it."
Under the proposed budget, which council gave three readings on Monday, taxpayers will buck up for:
• four more firefighters to complete the Burke Mountain fire hall company: $341,000;
• additional recreation programming for aquatics, Glen Pine Pavilion and northeast Coquitlam: $130,000;
• more parks amenities: $100,000;
• a boost to the Canada Day celebrations budget to include fireworks: $35,000;
• and more administrative support: $228,000.
The 2.42% tax hike also accounts for contractual inflation for both city and RCMP staff. This summer, the city ratified the CUPE collective agreement, seeing a 1.75% increase in 2014 (the wage raise also applies to management and council salaries).
As for its five-year financial plan, council has earmarked $91 million for transportation projects, including $31 million for road repairs, $27 million for road improvements, $13 million for greenways and $11.5 million for streetscaping around the Evergreen Line.
As well, council set aside $69 million for new parks and recreation initiatives, including $25 million for a new rec complex in Burquitlam, $15 million for parkland acquisition, $10 million for park development, $5 million for sports fields and $3.9 million for a covered dry-floor facility near Dogwood Pavilion.
Mayor Stewart called the budget a "good news story" as it delivers the lowest average property tax increase in eight years. "And when combined with savings on the utility bill, I suspect we now have the lowest tax/utility cost increase for homeowners in decades."
Still, the one councillor who consistently votes against the budget took city managers and Stewart to task for "milking" reserves and casino revenues for capital projects and staffing that would otherwise be paid for out of taxpayers' pockets.
Coun. Lou Sekora said future councils will be faced with steep budget as the expenditures mount. "We are responsible for every dollar in this city," he said.
But Coun. Brent Asmundson, whose budget comments were repeatedly interrupted by Sekora, said, "some people always vote against the budget. It's part of what they do."
Newly elected Coun. Bonita Zarrillo suggested the budget doesn't go far enough to offer traffic solutions or to create well-paying jobs.