A bid to slice one per cent off next year’s property tax increase was quashed by Richmond City Council Monday evening.
Coun. Bill McNulty, backed by fellow councillors Ken Johnston and Derek Dang, argued that shaving the single point down from a 2.96 per cent rise would be a token gesture and would acknowledge the financial strain being felt by the taxpayers.
The rest of council, however, stood firm, adding the one per cent in question — which was recommended by staff to go into the city’s reserves — is vital to help the city continue to deal with future infrastructure replacement.
“We’re not giving the taxpayer a break at all,” said McNulty. “Their salaries have not gone up for years; people’s incomes are frozen and there are other sources out there that can go into the reserves. Staff have spent about 10 pages (in the report) telling us how difficult the economy is, and we should think about that for the taxpayer.”
People across Richmond are facing no wage increases, lay-offs and cutbacks, according to Johnston.
“One per cent is not the end of the world, and I’d like to send a message; call it a ‘reserve holiday’ if you like. People’s hydro, sewer, everything is shooting up; the taxpayer is getting pounded. We’re not going to save everybody’s life with this, but it’s time to put some reins on it.”
Dang chimed in on the same note, saying the city in previous years has been “prudent in making sure money has been going into the reserves.”
However, leading the resistance against the reduction, Coun. Evelina Halsey-Brandt reminded council the city’s infrastructure is ageing all the time and Richmond’s population continues to grow.
Coun. Harold Steves also jogged people’s memories with the anecdote of previous councils not putting money away.
“It took many years to build those reserves back up and our buildings are getting old,” said Steves. “If we don’t keep putting money away, we will have to borrow it.”
Mayor Malcolm Brodie said it was “extremely important” to keep topping up the city’s reserve fund, which stands at around $200 million.
“There’s going to be a dramatic decrease (in the reserves) already because of infrastructure improvements,” added Brodie, referring to the replacement of the Minoru Seniors Centre and pool. “There was a reason we adopted this strategy of putting money into the reserves; in the ’90s we had low taxes, which resulted in the reserves going on a downward slope and into perilous territory.”
To maintain the current levels of service across the city, staff recommended an increase of $3.42 million in spending. However, the additional one per cent — $1.74 million — for reserves adds up to a total property tax increase of 2.96 per cent.