The average residential homeowner in Coquitlam can expect to see a 2.41% increase when their property tax bill arrives next year.
According to the financial plan given first reading Monday by council, commercial property owners will see a 1.41% rise, working out to a 2.06% overall average increase for business and homeowners, the lowest jump in two decades, said Mayor Richard Stewart.
“Council has approved a budget increase that amounts to an average property tax increase of $46 per household,” he said during prepared remarks he read Monday night. “This 2.06% is the ninth consecutive year of declining tax increases and the lowest tax increase in over 20 years.”
The gap between the residential and commercial property tax increase is due to a decision made by council several years ago to shift some of the tax burden between the property types.
The move recognizes the city’s “commercial tax rates have been relatively high in comparison to other jurisdictions while our residential rates are in the middle range,” said a staff report.
Utility rates are also on the rise. The financial plan report states the average property owner can expect to pay an additional $14 (a 3% increase) for sewer and drainage and $21 (7%) for solid waste. The jump in utilities is offset by a $21 decrease for the average residential water rate, according to staff.
The new property tax revenue will help pay for some of the service enhancements sought by the city’s various department heads during last month’s budget consultations.
For example, the Coquitlam RCMP will receive $201,000 to hire new support staff that Supt. Sean Maloney said would free up officers for the detachment’s Community Response Team, which focuses on dealing with the growing number of people suffering from mental health and addiction issues, he told council in November.
But not all of the 29 budget requests were granted.
Coquitlam Fire and Rescue had sought $300,000 in increased staffing costs but will only receive $145,000 for a full-time field trainer. As well, planning and development’s $568,000 request for new staff was scaled back to $320,000.
Another $237,000 in grant funding will be split between the Coquitlam Public Library, Place Maillardville, Place des Arts, Evergreen Cultural Centre and the Coquitlam Heritage Society while $369,000 will be allocated to the parks and recreation department for service enhancements.
The biggest single piece of new spending included in the financial plan is $575,000 for park asset replacement.
Michelle Hunt, the city’s general manager of finance and technology, said the funds would be used to narrow the gap between the city’s reserves and what it costs to replace existing equipment and infrastructure. She noted that the parks department does not have a reserve on which to draw to replace playground pieces, fences and lighting, and that “a large backlog of work is needed.”
Even with the additional money, the city will still not be fully funding the replacement of assets, according to a staff report.
Some councillors questioned the need for taking more taxpayer dollars for reserves.
Coun. Terry O’Neill said the tax increase could have been even lower and that a conversation needs to be had with residents about how much they want to pay now for services versus paying later.
Coun. Dennis Marsden, the only council member to vote against the budget, concurred with O’Neill, saying existing internal reserves should be used to pay for asset replacement.
“It really bothered me that we are going to look at our seniors, our young families and say we are increasing the tax rate an extra 0.45% to take care of things we might be able to take care of internally,” Marsden said.