Petition aims to halt tax increases

Residents are demanding more fiscal restraint from council

Residents in Hope are taking action to voice their frustration over the current property tax increase.

A group led by Ray Zervini has launched a petition demanding fiscal restraint from council. They want to see zero tax increases for the next three years and a review of all current and future spending. The petition has garnered about 1,000 signatures in two weeks.

“The taxpayers have had enough,” said Zervini. “Things have got to change a little bit. It’s not just Hope. Communities all over B.C. are having this problem.”

The general tax levy for all classes in Hope increased eight per cent this year. Some individual homeowners have seen higher increases due to changes in the assessed value of their properties, an increase in school tax, an increase in Fraser Valley Regional District tax, and an increase in the BC Assessment Authority tax levy.

Zervini hopes the petition will not only send a message to the district, but also to the provincial and federal governments, that residents are tired of having expenses downloaded on them. He’s planning a rally in August, coinciding with the regular council meeting, to raise awareness about these concerns. He said the group will also present the district with a list of ideas they’ve come up with to reduce municipal spending in an effort to be more cost-efficient. Suggestions include reducing town hall staffing, lowering school district expenses by closing Silver Creek Elementary, and no longer seeking government grants for projects requiring matched funding by the district.

“If you can’t afford it, then don’t do it,” said Zervini. “We have to start looking at other ways to cut costs.”

While Mayor Susan Johnston acknowledges that taxes have increased considerably this year, she noted that the district is currently backed into a corner.

“We have to do what we think is right,” she said. “We have an obligation as mayor and council to pay the bills and we can’t pay the bills unless we increase taxes. We’re trying to do the best job we can with what we have.”

As for the proposed no tax increases for three years, Johnston said it’s possible but would have severe consequences.

“Everything will come to a screeching halt and the following year we’ll declare bankruptcy because there’s no alternative,” she explained. “We’re not doing this in spite of our taxpayers. We’re doing this because we’re looking after their needs. Those needs and costs continue to rise.”