Port Moody homeowners won’t have to dig as deeply into their pockets to pay their property taxes this year as had been originally proposed.
But they could have had to burrow even further.
Tuesday, council’s finance committee approved a 9.29 per cent property tax increase.
That’s just over two per cent less than the 11.33 per cent boost staff had recommended in February.
But Port Moody’s general manager of finance and technology, Paul Rockwood, said it’s a significant reduction from an increase that had since risen to 12.17 per cent to reflect some regional contracts that had recently been settled.
Rockwood said economies had been achieved by factoring in increased revenues from more business licenses being issued, tweaks to leases on the fire department’s fire trucks, an anticipated larger grant from BC Hydro in lieu of property taxes on its decommissioned Burrard Thermal generating plant, as well as a phased approach to hiring several new positions because they likely won’t be filled until July.
As well, councillors voted to further defer filling a position for a public art coordinator that has been vacant since early in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rockwood said the exercise of paring the city’s operating budget for the coming year was tough, citing “financial pressures from a wide variety of areas,” like inflation, increased cost for goods and supply chain issues.
“A lot of cities are facing the same things we’re facing,” he added.
Rockwood said the positions that will be phased in are required just so the city can maintain its current levels of service to residents, something many indicated was important to them during a public engagement process that included a online survey as well as polling by Ipsos, a professional polling company.
Public survey gets big response
Port Moody’s manager of financial planning, Tyson Ganske, told the committee that process received a record response, up 30 per cent from last year.
Almost half the respondents indicated they’d be OK with an 11.33 per cent tax increase.
Mayor Meghan Lahti said that was an important indicator of residents’ desire to maintain the quality of life they enjoy in the city.
“I wouldn’t want to underestimate the fact this is the largest amount of feedback we’ve ever received,” she said.
Lahti said the work by staff and councillors to shave almost three per cent from a tax bill that will cost the average homeowner in the city about $250 is an admirable achievement and a clarion call that Port Moody has to get serious about finding further sources of revenue.
Must diversify tax base
Coun. Haven Lurbiecki agreed, saying the city needs to diversify its tax base so all the financial burden doesn’t fall on homeowners.
“Becoming a high-rise bedroom community isn’t to going to pay for the economic future of the city,” she said. “When we have development, we have to ensure developers are paying their fair share.”
Coun. Diana Dilworth conceded a 9.29 per cent increase is still a tough pill to swallow for residents already coping with their own financial challenges, so the city needs to start thinking outside the box.
“There’s no reason for local budgeting to be done the way it’s been done for years,” she said.
Coun. Callan Morrison said the onus is now on Port Moody to mind every penny it spends.
“We need to be making sure every dollar is being put to the right places,” he said. “We’re looking at everything trying to find those efficiencies.
"Events are an investment"
The chair of the finance committee, Coun. Amy Lubik, said she’s glad the city’s lineup of community events, like Canada Day celebrations at Rocky Point Park, survived the pruning process.
“Events are an investment in the vibrancy of our community.”
The committee’s recommendation now goes to council where it’s expected to be approved on May 9, just ahead of the province’s May 15 deadline for municipal budget submissions.
Rockwood said the budget will be subsequently reviewed three times in the coming year to ensure it remains on track.
As for comparisons to Port Coquitlam’s 3.38 per cent hike to its property taxes and Coquitlam’s 5.48 per cent boost, Coun. Samantha Agtarap said, “We are operating in a slightly different context than some of our neighbours. As we grow we need to make sure we are a complete community.”