New Westminster city council is contemplating a tax hike of up to two per cent in 2013.
The City of New Westminster's proposed base budget for 2013 is calling for a zero per cent tax rate increase, but a tax increase would be required if council chooses to approve some suggested "priority" initiatives. These items include a dog licence canvassing program by the animal services division, resources needed to prepare and plan for the 2014 opening of Anvil Centre, additional cleaning staff for the police station, a public art coordinator, a mayor and council coordinator, new positions for the police department including members specializing in forensics and mental health.
"I would think that is the high side," said Mayor Wayne Wright about a two per cent tax increase. "I am hoping to keep it as low as possible."
According to the staff report, a strata property assessed at $306,000 would see an annual increase of $10 with a one per cent increase or $20 with a two per cent increase, as well as a $33 increase in utility fees; a single-family dwelling assessed at $696,000 would see a $24 increase with a one per cent tax increase or a $48 increase with a two per cent increase, and utility increases of $68; and a single -amily dwelling assessed at $1 million would see a $34 tax increase with a one per cent tax increase, a $69 tax increase with a two per cent increase, and utility fee increase of $68.
Following a presentation by finance director Gary Holowatiuk at Monday afternoon's working session, council discussed the budget.
Coun. Betty McIntosh said no decisions were made about the budget and the discussion will continue at a future meeting.
"It is still in discussion," she said. "We are going to come back item by item by item. We started but time got too short."
Council members will email questions to Holowatiuk, who will report back to council at an upcoming meeting.
Several of the priority items include staffing resources to provide for additional staff who would canvass door-to-door to licence dogs, overseeing Anvil Centre and coordinating the city's public art policy.
"Labour is 66 per cent of our budget," Wright said. "If we are going to do something different, where do we want it to go?"
McIntosh said the new Anvil Centre will have operational requirements in terms of staffing once it opens, which will impact future budgets.
"I don't think we can just look at this one year," she said. Once the centre is open, not only are you going to have staff in place to do cleaning and administration, it is a whole new facility. That is one of the budget drivers for 2014."
Wright believes that funding of Anvil Cente operations will be one of the most important decisions to be made by council and the city needs to ensure it doesn't try "to be bigger than we should be" from an operational point of view.
The 2013 to 2017 financial plan report received by city council Monday also proposed that the city establish, by bylaw, a new capital reserve called the Civic Facility Replacement Reserve, which would fund the eventual replacement/rental of the city's aging inventory.
"The goal would be to build up sufficient funds in the reserve over the next 10 or 20 years so that the reserve is sufficient to renew civic facilities as they reach the end of their service life," sated the staff report. "In the meantime, it is important to budget for an annual provision into the reserve as there are two facilities in particular that will require significant funding for renewal purpose - the Canada Games Pool and Massey Theatre.
Wright told The Record that he considers Canada Games Pool to be the biggest priority.
"It's being used constantly and needs some changes," he said. "It is packed.
According to the staff report, the 2013 general fund operating budget totals about $100.8 million, which includes funding of ongoing municipal services. The proposed $71.2 million capital budget include funding for annual maintenance and replacement of transportation infrastructure, civic facilities, vehicles and equipment. It also includes funding for projects like the Anvil Centre/office tower, Ewen Avenue reconstruction, Front Street parkade rail replacement and the Fourth Street pedestrian overpass into Westminster Pier Park.