New Westminster contemplates tax hike for 2015

New Westminster residents could be facing a 2.75 to 3.45 per cent hike to their taxes in 2015

On Feb. 2, council received a report about the 2015 to 2019 financial plan. The report stated that a 2.75 per cent tax increase is needed to fund ongoing municipal services, but a 3.45 per cent increase would provide funding for staffing positions that would address workload issues.

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According to the report, a 2.75 per cent increase would result in a $30 hike for a strata assessed at $303,900, $71 on a single-family dwelling assessed at $708,300 and $99 on a home assessed at $1 million. The 3.45 per cent increase would result in tax hikes of $38, $89 and $124.

The 2015 draft budget is proposing about $110.1 million to provide ongoing municipal services, an increase from $105.9 million in 2014. The $4.2 million increase in expenses reflects an increase of $3.5 million in salaries and benefits (including $1.9 million is for annual wage increments and $0.2 million is to address the negotiated fire services settlement), as well as new positions approved by council in 2014 to address workload issues at Anvil Centre operations, increased police costs, IT system maintenance and supplies and materials for Anvil Centre.

Mayor Jonathan Cote said Anvil Centre, as well as a few items approved last year, is adding $1 million to this year’s budget. He said council wanted more information about costs associated with Anvil Centre, which wasn’t fully budgeted last year because it didn’t open until September.

Council members asked for more details about the costs, staffing and revenues associated with the facility. Staff will report back to council at the next budget session.

In addition to the base budget, council is considering additional funding requests from departments to deal with workload issues. If approved, the funds needed would increase the tax rate from 2.75 to 3.45 per cent in 2015.

“I think it is probably safe to say we will be in that range, but at this point a decision as to where we fall will happen when we have a discussion on those items,” Cote said.

The positions being proposed include a part-time permits and licenses clerk, a planning assistant, an apprentice electrician, auxiliary staff in engineering operations to help provide staffing for city events and general maintenance in the city, a parks and open space planner, a manager of the community energy and emissions plan and a part-time payroll clerk.

Joan Burgess, the city’s director of human resources, said the city has brought on a “good number” of additional employees in recent years and that impacts payroll. She said the city has lost payroll employees as a result of workload issues.

When considering new staffing position, council members said they’d like to know whether the city saves money by hiring someone rather than having to pay consultants, or if the position results in other savings or generates revenues.

On the capital side of the budget, 2015 includes funding for completion of the Anvil Centre restaurant, upgrades to city hall, relocation of the animal services facility and the tow yard, replacement of Massey Theatre, replacement of various city vehicles, expansion of pay station parking systems to replace current parking metres, reconstruction of the Moody Park spray pool, refurbishment of the Sapperton Park playground and spray pool, and completion of the St. Mary’s parkland development project.

The city must adopt a five-year financial plan by May 15.

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