Keeping the city safe from cyber threats, ensuring value for money and boosting wages for RCMP officers are among top concerns in Port Coquitlam’s upcoming 2022 operating budget.
On Tuesday (Dec. 7), PoCo councillors had a first look at a proposal to increase taxes by 3.64 per cent, which will add an extra $111 a year on the average home valued at $781,522.
Mayor Brad West described the budget as “prudent and responsible” and noted that setting aside money for future wage increases for RCMP services is a key factor in the tax hike.
RCMP officers across Canada are signing on to their first collective agreement, which PoCo staff said would likely be finalized this summer.
Funds have been set aside in reserve but will not be enough.
To make up the shortfall, Port Coquitlam is raising more money through taxation, the equivalent of a 1.5 per cent tax increase.
It also needs 2.81 per cent more in taxes to maintain service levels because of higher costs for third-party service providers, such as library services, water, sewer and garbage disposal as well as anticipated wage increases for unionized city workers.
According to West, RCMP officers deserve their pay but he said the city is in a difficult situation because it must live with the wage increase negotiated by the federal government.
“The reality of the RCMP settlement that has occurred it that it’s a significant cost pressure on the city’s budget, without a doubt the men and women who serve our community as officers deserve to be paid fairly,” said West.
However, “It’s not discretionary and optional, it’s something we have to deal with and are dealing with,” he added.
West called the 3.64 per cent tax increase “modest” and said it will ensure core services are maintained as well as the operation of new amenities, like the Port Coquitlam Community Centre.
The Port Coquitlam budget was drafted in the context of a challenging year, when the city is grappling with the impacts of COVID-19, climate change and inflation, staff noted in a report.
As a result a number of discretionary items were omitted from the budget, including increased cleaning services, increased funding to community events and cultural programs, higher expenditures related to street and sidewalk repairs, general park clean up and other projects.
Also not included in the 2022 budget are councillors’ recommendations, which West said totalled $1.3 million.
“And we don’t have $1.3 million, he said.
It’s possible these requests could be revisited if fortunes improve and there is a surplus.
But one discretionary item was added to the budget with full approval of councillors.
PoCo council unanimously agreed to a specific request for $50,000 to beef up the city’s cybersecurity software.
Protecting city systems against malware and hacking was seen as a top priority, according to staff, especially with evolving cyber threats against government agencies.
According to Dominic Long, director of community safety and corporate support, the city has taken every effort to mitigate threats and has prevented over 3,400 cyber threats to the city this year.
However, software needs to be upgraded to maintain security, he said.
Port Coquitlam residents will have the chance to comment on the city’s proposed 2022 budget in the coming weeks.
Public engagement will take place from Dec. 15 to Jan. 15 and include the Budget at a Glance document mailed to each property and additional background information online.
The annual budget survey, which helps the city identify community priorities and satisfaction with service levels, will be provided in the mail-out and available online.
More information is set to be available on the City of Port Coquitlam's website.