Friday, February 01, 2008

Richter Report - Feb 1, 2008 – Another Historic Tax Increase - A NEW RECORD

Another Historic Tax Increase Gets Ready to Slide In – Even higher than last year – A NEW RECORD is set: a 15.82% general tax increase in 3 years

Langley Township taxpayers should brace themselves for another historic tax increase.

On January 14, 2008, Mayor Alberts and his majority on Council gave preliminary approval for a 5.95% general tax increase. In the same omnibus motion, they also supported a standard 5% tax increase in each of the next 5 years (a unique Council precedent not previously seen). In addition, this motion gave staff permission to change the budgeting process so that each year’s “acceptable” (or basic 5%) property tax increase will be now be set in June of each year for the following year – the implication being that Council can increase the “acceptable” tax rate after June but cannot decrease it.

This is a very interesting maneuver because it means that Council will now be setting a basic property tax increase for the next year before it even collects our taxes for the current year, or before it even has the next year’s BC Property Assessment values. As usual on financial matters, I was the only one who voted against it.

I think this budgeting maneuver will handicap future councils, like the one we will be electing in November of this year, because they will be locked into an “acceptable” basic 5% tax increase rate that they did not discuss or approve.

Why was this change in budgeting process really necessary? (Never mind the fact that it is coming at the same time as a 5.95% property tax increase on top of a 12% increase in average property assessment value in Langley). In my opinion, this whole new budgeting process is not being put in place for the convenience of the taxpaying public who pay the tab. If it was for the public, the public would have been asked and they were not. So who really benefits from this change? This Council never even asked. They just blindly voted “yes”. As they always do.

And that brings us to the crux of the matter.

The current mayor, a former senior employee of the Township, was elected 9 years ago (1999-2002). There were 3 factions on that Council: Slate 1 (LLT-2 members), Slate 2 (LCC-1 member), and independents (4 members). In that Council’s 3 year term, tax increases were 0%, 3.5%, and 0%.

In the next term (2002-2005), there were 2 factions: the mayor’s slate (4 members) and the independents (5 members). The tax increases during that Council’s term were 1%, 3.75% and 3.2%.

In the current term (2005-2008), there are again 2 factions: the mayor’s endorsed slate (7 members) and 2 independents. The tax increases during the current term have been 4.95%, 4.92% and now 5.95% with a commitment to a basic 5% tax increase per year for the next 5 years according to the newly approved budgeting process. This is a new record in tax increases for Langley Township – 15.82% over the last 3 years and an additional 25% over the next 5 years.

Do you see the pattern? When there was some competition on Council, tax rates were held in check. As soon as the mayor got a majority, tax rates went spiraling upward (on top of unusually high increases in assessed property values) and they’re not stopping, nor is there any sign that it will for the next 5 years.

Have you felt the impact of this Council’s decisions on your annual property tax bill? Are you getting more or better service for what you’re paying? Have basic service levels like roads, water, drainage, garbage/recycling removal and snow plowing been improving with the continued increases in taxes?

I believe that government, be it federal, provincial or municipal, is primarily there to provide an oversight function. Bureaucracies can easily get carried away. It is the job of elected officials to balance the real needs of the public with the perceived needs of the bureaucracy – otherwise the taxpaying public would be broke.

In the case of this municipal government, it’s time to say “STOP”. The current tax rates are no longer affordable – especially for the long term Langley residents. 5% per year compounded over the last 3 years and projected for the next 5 years is not realistic – it’s just greedy.

Langley Township Council needs to start doing the real job for which it is paid and that is oversight. They are not there to be ‘buddies’ or ‘quasi-bureaucrats’. They are not there to rubberstamp staff reports and recommendations. They are there to think for themselves. They are there to protect the taxpayers’ interests. They are there to ask tough questions and to make sure they get sensible answers. Endorsing a 5.95% tax increase on top of two consecutive years of 4.95% increases just doesn’t cut it. Sorry.

Isn’t it time for a major change on Council? How much more can we afford?

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