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City residents face 2.25 per cent tax hike

Royal City residents have a few more days to comment on the city's 2012 financial plan, which is proposing a 2.25 per cent tax hike. The 2.

Royal City residents have a few more days to comment on the city's 2012 financial plan, which is proposing a 2.25 per cent tax hike.

The 2.25 per cent tax increase translates to an increase of $24 for a residential strata assessed at $304,000, $52 for a single-family home assessed at $661,000 and $78 for a single-family home assessed at $1 million.

Gary Holowatiuk, the city's director of finance and information technology, said the city faces "some very real and significant" budget pressures, including annual wage increases, aging infrastructure and rising costs from external service providers.

He said the city has asked that budget items remain at 2011 levels unless increases can be justified. The city has reviewed departments' requests for additional funding - for issues relating to workload or to city priority projects - on a case-by-case basis to see if they can be accommodated within the existing budget.

The city has also chosen to fund salaries and benefits at 97 per cent of the actual budget and relied on staff vacancies and hiring restrictions to ensure this budget target is achieved.

"All other expenses for 2012 are basically kept at 2011 levels unless they can be justified," he said.

Holowatiuk said city growth has been about two per cent annually over the last 10 years, which places pressures on city services and infrastructure because of increased demand and use.

Holowatiuk said municipalities, by their nature, are "staff-intensive" operations.

"As a service-based organization, the city's major cost is salaries and benefits," said a report to council.

"Compensation to the city's 730 full-time equivalents (FTEs) represents approximately 67 per cent of the total generating operating costs.

"These costs increase with the demand for services, level of service and collective agreements."

The staff report stated that salaries, benefits and training in 2012 total about $66 million, which is an increase of $2 million over 2011.

While the majority of this increase will accommodate annual wage/salary adjustments, the city will add about 10 auxiliary and temporary FTE positions to address workload pressures and to provide resources to carry out specific priority projects.

On the revenue side of the budget, property taxes are the city's biggest source of funding, providing about 73 per cent of the total revenues in the general fund. Sale of services, grants and other sources provide additional revenues.

Holowatiuk said new construction generated $1.8 million for the city, which is the highest level reached since 2007. "This is a bonus year."

The city's capital budget, which totals $54.8 million in 2012, includes equipment, vehicles, public works, parks facilities and other projects.

The multi-use civic facility, the Westminster Pier Park, the expansion to the Queensborough community centre, enhancements to Fraser Cemetery, and street and sidewalk revitalization (including upgrades to Ewen Avenue in Queensborough) are examples of capital projects.

Capital projects proposed for coming years include the Massey Performing Arts Centre, a pedestrian overpass from the Quay to Queens borough, and dock and esplanade improvements on the waterfront - the latter two projects being funded through casino revenues known as development assistance compensation.

The City of New Westminster owns and operates four utilities - an electrical distribution system, a water distribution system, a sewerage and drainage system and a solid waste collection service.

Holowatiuk said the largest cost related to these utilities is the purchase of services from external sources, such as electricity from B.C. Hydro and water from the Greater Vancouver Water District.

Other costs include upkeep of the aging infrastructure.

In addition to a proposed property tax increase, New Westminster taxpayers face increases to their utility fees - a $31 increase for a strata assessed at $304,000 and a $64 increase for a single family homes assessed at $661,000.

The City of New Westminster's draft 2012 to 2016 financial plan is available at city hall or online at www.newwest (under What's New).

Comments are being accepted until Friday, Feb. 24.

Director New Westminster resident John Ashdown was the lone resident to attend Monday night's council meeting, where residents could comment on the budget.

He sought clarifications on several items in the budget.

The City of New Westminster kicked off its budget process last July with a pre-budget session with staff.

The city is aiming to approve the financial plan bylaw in March. TheresaMcManus

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