A tax decrease or a new rec complex? Port Coquitlam residents will have to choose
Port Coquitlam residents are being offered a choice between a tax decrease or having a redeveloped recreation complex.
That was the message during Monday night's city council meeting, where staff presented a draft financial plan that called for a 0.34% property tax decrease — a drop of approximately $6.71 per household.
But if PoCo taxpayers want a new recreation facility and seniors centre, that decrease would turn into an increase of 1% to 1.5% — a hike of about $25 per household.
"We want the residents to help us make the decision," said PoCo Mayor Greg Moore. "Is there room now to do it or later on when we know what is going into it and the project is more tangible?"
Moore added that council and the city will be engaging with the public through the end of January to see if there is an immediate demand for redeveloping the rec complex, which is nearing the end of its lifespan.
Other service enhancements are also outlined in the 2014-’19 draft financial plan.
An additional RCMP officer is being hired and funds are being set aside for infrastructure maintenance and replacement. Money is also being spent for a self-help matching grant program the city said will support improvement projects around the community.
The list of service enhancements will cost about $1.2 million, $900,000 of which was funded through cost savings from the city's core service review. Another $500,000 was saved by eliminating vacant positions and the city expects to generate $61,000 in revenue by charging West Coast Express commuters to park at the PoCo rec complex and through other sponsorships.
This year's planned capital expenditures include $900,000 in upgrades to several athletic fields, sidewalk improvements and the replacement of the Jaws of Life for PoCo Fire and Emergency Services.
Because most of the cost reductions have come from operational savings — not one-time capital projects — Moore insists the property tax decrease is sustainable.
This budget is not election year politics, he said, noting council has held the line on taxes for the last few years, particularly 2013's 0.86% increase.
"This has nothing to do with the election year," he said. "The most important document we work on is the budget and we... have looked at it very closely over the last four years."
Coun. Brad West concurred with the mayor, saying during Monday's meeting that council is respecting the fact most residents have not seen their wages rise or their pensions increase.
"I think this reality places extra responsibility on the city to hold the line on taxes," he said. "In many ways, the real challenging part will be sustaining this type of trajectory. I think it will take continued hard work... but I believe this can and should be the new normal."
The lower taxes means that residents may have to "put a lid on some of the wants," said Coun. Darrell Penner.
"I think the buy-in for the reduction in taxes has to come from the community," Penner said. "The community [needs to] recognize that we might not be able to do things this year and next year because there isn't the money."
But while the city has managed to reduce its costs, taxpayers will still see a slight increase in utility rates this year.
The sewer and solid waste levy will remain the same as 2013 but a 2.3% increase in the water levy is expected. Most of the increase is attributed to flow-through costs from Metro Vancouver that are beyond the control of the municipality.
• A Budget at a Glance mailout is being delivered to homes and businesses this week and the Budget Highlights booklet can be viewed by going to www.portcoquitlam.ca/budget. Feedback can be provided until Jan. 31 by email (firstname.lastname@example.org), by phone (604-927-5280) or at city hall (2580 Shaughnessy St.). A detachable comment sheet is available as part of the Budget Highlights booklet and there is an online budget suggestion box at www.portcoquitlam.ca/budget.