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Langley Township council plans to add firefighters, mulls sewage costs

Budget season means a host of priorities jockeying for funding

Owners of a home worth $1 million in Langley Township will pay $99.72 in additional taxes and utilities this year, if a proposed three per cent property tax increase is approved by council.

The council is in the early stages of debating its budget, and on Monday, Jan. 24 they heard from finance director Sandra Ruff about operations costs – everything from the cost of the RCMP detachment to additional firefighters, from road and sewer maintenance to the library levy.

Of the typical increase, $66 would be from property taxes, while the remainder would be from various utility costs and levies.

After hearing about capital projects last week, this week’s budget session was focused on ongoing costs, including utilities like sewer and water, where residents across the Lower Mainland, including in the Township, face potential big increases.

Increases in sewage utility costs could run as high as 30 per cent in coming years.

That’s a result of upgrades to major sewage treatment plants around the region, including the Northwest Langley Wastewater Treatment Plan upgrade, planned to start this year.

Ruff explained that provincial and federal governments have tightened requirements for treating wastewater. The Langley and Iona Island treatment plants are secondary treatment plants, that are being expanded to tertiary treatment levels – treating effluent more thoroughly before the water is discharged back into the Fraser River or the Salish Sea.

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They’re also being expanded for the growing population of the region.

“We’re talking multi-billion dollar projects,” noted Councillor Kim Richter, who suggested the Township and its neighbours take the same approach North Shore municipalities did with their treatment plant upgrade, and amortize the cost over 30 years instead of 15 years, to spread out the increases.

Mayor Jack Froese noted that such a proposal would require unanimous consent from the Metro Vancouver board.

“That would take some work,” he said, but it could be looked at.

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This year, the increase in the budget for water is 1.99 per cent, and for sewage it’s 3.29 per cent, with garbage and recycling collection seeing no increase.

One of the major changes in this year’s budget is adding new firefighters, after members of the department complained last year that they were understaffed. They wanted to see every truck leaving a fire hall with a full crew of four, which is the standard for safety at a fire or other emergency scene. Because of leave, illness, or injury, many trucks were going to fires with just three crew members.

This year, the budget includes provisions for another six firefighters to be hired in July, boosting crew levels.

It also makes provisions for expiring union contacts among both firefighters and civic staff, along with a cautious approach to Township revenue after two years that were unpredictable because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ruff noted that inflation, currently running at about 3.8 per cent in B.C., is also an issue for the budget, potentially driving up the costs of goods needed for projects and operations. Supply chain disruptions could also mean difficulty getting things on time, which could also impact the budget.

The libraries levy is going up, partly to provide an ongoing fund that can be used for replacing library equipment and furniture as needed, and also for potentially outfitting a new library. The council has been talking about establishing a new branch of the Fraser Valley Regional Library in Willoughby.

Councillors didn’t make any decisions on Monday, but they flagged multiple items for further debate, including the overall tax rate.

Richter noted that the tax rate was set based on maintaining current service levels.

“Well maybe it’s time to start questioning the ‘maintain services’ part of it,” she said.

A $7.6 million federal COVID restart grant is part of the calculations in this year’s budget.

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Matthew Claxton

About the Author: Matthew Claxton

Raised in Langley, as a journalist today I focus on local politics, crime and homelessness.
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