A reduction in provincial grant funding and an increase in RCMP costs are driving an eight per cent municipal tax increase this year.
Council passed the first three readings of the district’s 2013-2017 financial plan bylaw on Monday night.
If the tax rates remain the same as 2012, the increase translates to about $140 more for the average homeowner with a family residence valued at $221,137. The average business ($237,591) could see property taxes rise about $700 this year, and another $420 for average light industry ($197,760).
“Right from the get go we realized it was going to be a challenging year,” said Parissa Bhullar, Hope’s director of finance. “Everything we do comes at a cost. We’ve been affording just the day-to-day expenses and we need a vision. We need to set the foundation for the future.”
Bhullar said the district started the year with nearly a $1 million shortfall, due largely to a $451,094 reduction in small community and traffic fine revenue sharing grant funding. That combined with several other factors – a $356,000 increase in policing costs, three per cent contracted increases, $8,100 more for Fraser Valley Regional Library, about two per cent utilities increase due to inflation, and costs expected with the tax structure changing from HST to GST/PST – has resulted in a lean budget this year. However, Bhullar said Hope is now in line with neighboring municipalities and despite consistent tax increases, the district continues to maintain, and in some cases increase, service levels.
Staff Sgt. Suki Manj said the lease rate for the detachment building went up significantly this year with the new RCMP contract and Hope is now billed 100 per cent of that cost. The budget increases also take into account negotiated increases in wages and benefit packages.
“I have done whatever I can do to be more resourceful and efficient,” he added.
The district currently budgets for 13 officers and four office staff. The cost is shared 70/30 by Hope and the province.
An ongoing challenge for Hope is generating enough revenue to cover operating expenses, especially with the population in decline. The district will collect slightly over $7 million in property taxes this year, which contributes to an overall operating revenue of $11.3 million. Expenses are projected to total $11.2 million this year, which includes a 15 per cent increase for water and sewer.
In order to balance the budget this year, the district is using a prior year surplus of $500,000 and postponing several capital projects. The 2013 budget includes funding for public works yard buildings, Fire Hall No. 1 renovation (primarily the roof) and equipment, municipal fleet and equipment replacement, new public works computers, and the landfill closure. The 2014-2017 capital plan earmarks $3.2 million in road improvements, $860,000 in dyke improvements, $300,000 for Othello Road bank erosion repair and stabilization, $180,000 for Johnson Road ditch replacement, $300,000 for a new fire department water tender, and $10.3 million for a new community safety building.
The final adoption of the 2013-2017 financial plan is slated for council’s April 22 meeting.