Monday, December 04, 2006

Richter Report - Dec 4, 2006 - Township Budget 2007 - The Tax & Spend Games Begin

(Kim Richter is in her 3rd term as Langley Township Councillor and also is a Professor of Business at Kwantlen University College. She holds a masters degree in health administration and was a health care management consultant. EDITOR-LFP)
Yesterday, I wrote a response to a reader of this blog about the Township’s 2007 budget and its planned tax increases. I expressed my continuing concern about the unsustainable and non-affordable tax increases that this Mayor and Council seem to have a penchant for. I said in my response that I had asked staff for summary information on the overall % tax increase proposed and that I was still waiting to receive it.

Today we had a Special Meeting of Council to discuss the budget and the information I requested was distributed to all members of Council. See attached sheet.

I have highlighted two key lines in this sheet. The top line gives the total municipal taxes for a typical household (assessed value of $420,000) from 2002 Actual to 2016 Draft Planned. The typical household paid $1565 in municipal taxes in 2002. This covers the General levy, the (new) Transportation levy, the (new) Protective Services levy, and the Water, Sewer, Stormwater and Garbage utilities. It does NOT include School, GVRD or Translink taxes. According to this same chart, by 2016 the typical Township Household will be paying $3,439 in municipal taxes. (Again, this figure does not include School, GVRD or Translink taxes).

From 2007 to 2016, municipal taxes on the average will increase 77.5%. From 2002 to 2016, they will have increased by 119.7% if this proposed budget is approved. I don’t think this is either sustainable or affordable and I said so today in Council. (Those people who are looking forward to retiring in the next 10 years had better include escalating property taxes in their retirement planning if they hope to stay in their current homes.)

The second line I have highlighted in the attached chart shows the combined % tax increase from 2003 to 2016. Note that in 2003, our combined tax increase (for municipal services only) was 3.4%. In 2004, it was 2.6%. In 2005, it was 2.8%. In 2006, it jumped to 6.6%. By 2008, it will be 7.0%. Then it drops back down to 6.5% and will hover around this mark EACH year through to 2016.

I brought these numbers to my fellow councilors attention in today’s meeting. Here are some of the comments I received.

Councillor A: “We’re holding the line. What staff is presenting is really quite reasonable.”

Councillor B: “People proposing Zero or negative tax increases were defeated in the last election. A Council supporting tax increases was elected.”

Councillor C: “We have the lowest taxes in the region plus a 3% growth rate. We’re really only talking about a .1% change from last year. I sympathize with lower tax rates but that’s more for re-election purposes.”

Councillor D: “This is a tremendously political issue: growth and inequity. Things are out of whack and we need to get some semblance of order and structure.” (No kidding)

Can you guess which councilor said what?

I’d like to think that my contribution made a difference today. Because I asked for and discussed these summary numbers, Council made a decision to refer the budget back to staff and to present a view of the budget limiting the total tax increase to 4.95%. (Councillors Kositsky, Vickberg and Ward were opposed). Kudos to Councillor Bateman for being brave enough to break out of the “Boys Club” by putting the motion forward to limit the total increase to 4.95% and kudos as well for putting forward a motion to freeze police costs until the issue with the City is resolved. (I seconded both his motions).

It’s clear to me that development is NOT paying for itself (staff as much as admitted that today). And, if development is not paying for itself, then why are we growing? It’s also clear to me that Council and staff are in dire need of some solid external advice from efficiency experts. What can and should be cut to keep service and tax levels reasonable? I believe that taxes should be limited to cost of living increases (which staff confirmed today is about 2%) and that we should be living within our means. We’re clearly not.

This budget is a long way from being over yet. We still have to wait and see what tax increase is ultimately agreed to. Should be interesting. Stay tuned.

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