Langley Township council will have to make some decisions about spending and revenue to get this year’s tax increase down to the four per cent or less target they set in the fall.
On Monday, Jan. 16, council heard a budget presentation from Sandra Ruff, director of finance.
Ruff said that after going over the key items in the budget, Township staff have managed to reduce a possible tax increase from 9.63 per cent down to 7.29 per cent.
“We’re looking for direction,” she said, indicating that the Township will need to find another $5 million in savings, spending reductions, or revenues to get the tax increase down to four per cent or less.
Council got to look at a broad overview of the budget, including utilities for water, sewer, and trash, as well as the Fraser Valley Regional Library levy.
The core budget is facing a number of pressures, including inflation, rising wages due to contracts, and higher costs for some contractors. For example. Ruff noted that contractors who mow grass in the Township are charging more because of the higher price of gasoline.
Township administrator Mark Bakken noted that there is a lot of work yet to do on the budget, and referenced the many projects the new council, under Mayor Eric Woodward and his majority Contract with Langley slate, hope to get off the ground in the coming years.
“We likely have a lot more priorities or hopes than we may have resources,” said Bakken. He said the council may have to prioritize or look for creative ways of raising revenue and reducing expenses.
He noted that union wage settlements for other public service unions in B.C. have been seeing increases of two per cent in recent years, but some in the past year have been as high as three, four, or five per cent, due to the rising cost of living.
There is some more money coming into the budget this year, with the Township anticipating about $1.9 million more in recreation fees than last year.
COVID-19 hammered rec programs and cut off most of that revenue, but as things have opened back up, skating rinks, gyms, and pools have reopened, and the Township is taking in money from sports and rec users again.
However, Ruff said it’s still about $1.89 million short of the pre-COVID revenues from recreation facilities.
One item that is in the budget is the addition of more firefighters, set to start in October. The Township plans to add 44 more firefighters over four years.
The RCMP will see an increase in cost about about $2 million this year, mostly from salary increases, but also from indirect costs.
Woodward noted that Langley City has not been adding RCMP officers at the same pace as the Township.
“We share a detachment, for now,” he said, referring to the council’s recent decision to consider separating its force from the City’s, forming two detachments.
The library levy will go up 3.21 per cent this year, funding the neighbourhood library branches around the community, a $215,000 increase from last year.
Ruff noted that the Township can reduce its library expenses, but that can mean cutting hours at the local branches. Langley is part of the Fraser Valley Regional Library (FVRL) system, which includes multiple local cities, including Abbotsford and Maple Ridge, in a shared system.
The council will meet again at the end of January to go over the budget, after peppering Ruff with questions about a number of areas. The next budget meeting is scheduled for Jan. 30.
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