Langley Township councillors got into the nitty gritty details of the budget process on Wednesday, before the public gets a chance to comment.
After four hours of meeting, the council settled on a draft budget that will include a 2.98 per cent property tax increase for homeowners and farms, and an increase of just under six per cent for light industrial and business properties.
The council spent the afternoon going through a spreadsheet of budget items, overseen by director of finance Karen Sinclair, voting on individual spending items from new RCMP officers to re-paving roads at the airport.
After further input from the public, the council will make a final decision on the budget later this spring.
What goes to the public won’t be final, “but hopefully, it’s pretty close,” said Mayor Jack Froese.
There were two main options presented, created by Coun. Blair Whitmarsh and Coun. Eric Woodward, which included differences in spending on new police and on contributions to capital projects.
READ MORE: Langley Township council tackles budget
Whitmarsh had put forward a plan that would add seven new RCMP officers next year, compared to Woodward’s plan, which aims for 10 officers.
The draft version which goes to the public will include the 10-officer plan, but Coun. Bob Long noted hiring does not always mean the officers arrive right away.
“If we ask for 10, we may only get five. If we ask for seven, we may only get three,” he said.
However, Long and others also noted this might be a very good year to recruit more RCMP officers, as Surrey is moving towards a municipal force, and officers could be recruited away.
The Langley RCMP’s officer in charge, Supt. Murray Power, has asked for 15 officers in the near future to deal with a fast-growing population.
Whitmarsh’s plan would have funded the new officer slightly differently, which would in turn result in more money flowing to the Township’s capital budget for things such as road paving.
Council also looked at where the Township stands in relation to neighbouring communities and how much locals pay on average in property taxes.
Councillors noted that in actual dollars for the average house, Township taxpayers are closer to the low end, including paying less than Abbotsford residents, despite having higher average house prices and values.
The council is pondering a 2.98 per cent increase for residential and farm taxes, and a higher increase of more than five per cent for business and light industrial properties. This could be the first year in a long time the rate of increase is different between different types of properties.
“I’m uncomfortable with raising the light industry and business rates to almost six per cent higher,” Whitmarsh said.
He added he was concerned this could become a pattern.
“This is where we create jobs in our community,” he said.
One unusual line item in the budget is a $300,000 anticipated decline in revenue because the Township is moving to a system of warning people twice about paying their property taxes, levying a five per cent fine for the first warning, instead of having just one warning with a 10 per cent penalty.
“So that is a real step for the taxpayer,” said Coun. David Davis.
“For the tardy taxpayer,” said Froese.
The Township started the year facing a tax increase rate of between four and nine per cent, depending on possible spending. Reserve funding, DCCs, and delays to projects and hiring have been suggested to bring the tax rate down.
“I don’t want to raise taxes on anybody, but that’s not a realistic objective,” said Woodward.
Long raised questions after the meeting about how the possible tax rate was being reduced.
“Raiding our reserves and surpluses and increasing debt coupled with manipulating aspects of the DCC program and CAC’s may get us through this year with a lower tax increase, but that is a game I do not want to play,” he said.
The average property tax increase, spread over both residential and business, would be an increase of around four per cent.