A plan to hold Langley Township’s property tax increase to under three per cent was debated by council Monday afternoon.
The proposal, from a memo by Councillor Eric Woodward, would set the residential tax increase rate at 2.98 per cent for 2020 while adding 10 new RCMP officers.
In addition to a number of smaller savings from deferring new hiring or cutting down on smaller projects, there are three major ways in which Woodward’s memo proposes to reduce the possible tax increase:
• Putting money from the RCMP capital reserve fund towards the salaries of the 10 new officers, rather than funding them out of general operating revenue
• Using money from the Roads Development Cost Charges fund to pay for land already purchased for the future 212th Street Connector in Willoughby
• Changing the mill rate for light industrial and businesses, so those properties would see a property tax increase of 5.63 and 5.83 per cent, respectively, instead of the 2.98 per cent that residences and farms would see.
The RCMP reserve fund comes from cash saved when the number of officers is lower than the total 196 officers who are funded for the Langley detachment.
When the Township’s slate of officers is below its full muster because officers have retired or transferred, but not yet been replaced, the money that would pay them goes into a reserve fund, which has accumulated several million dollars.
Woodward said the use of the funds – which were collected to pay RCMP officers originally – would allow the council to go a long way towards meeting the request of Supt. Murray Power, the officer in charge of the Langley RCMP, for 15 additional officers.
The Roads DCCs funds are to be used to pay back the Township’s general revenue for land that was purchased as part of a major land assembly last year. Included in that purchase is land for the 212th Connector, which is eligible for funding through DCCs, which are collected from developers, not property taxes.
The Township has requested the Ministry of Community Development to review and approve that spending.
Coun. Bob Long said using DCC money to pay for a project like that appears legal.
“But is it ethical?” he said. “Is it right to take DCC monies and put them into operating [budget]?”
When Woodward said he took offense to being called unethical – Woodward and Long have locked horns multiple times at meetings over the last few months – and asked the mayor to step in, Froese did.
He admonished both councillors to stop personal attacks or comments and stick to debating ideas.
“I’m not going to babysit everybody,” Froese said.
Mark Bakken, the Township’s administrator, said the money is to be used for land for a road that will run past a park and school site, making it a rare opportunity to use DCCs to pay for something when developers are not actually developing the site itself.
The Township took in more than $19 million in roads DCCs last year, a record high.
The proposed changes to the mill rate for light industry and business would be the first time the Township has changed the ratio of taxes paid by business to that paid by residents in many years.
But the spread between the Township’s residential and business tax rate is far lower than the spread in cities like Vancouver and Coquitlam, noted Karen Sinclair, the Township’s director of finance. Those cities are rolling back their high business tax rates, while other cities are going the opposite direction.
“Surrey for the first time this year is doing this,” Sinclair said. “And White Rock is considering doing this as well.”
The council reviewed a number of other items in the budget, including the possibility of spending $1 million to allow the next phase of Yorkson Community Park to be built, as well as several road safety improvements.
Several options for the intersection of 272nd Street and 28th Avenue were looked at, including $30,000 for temporary curb bulges, $250,000 for a pedestrian-activated signal, or $350,000 for a full signal light.
Several councillors expressed some concern about the Woodward memo not including any increases for road paving and repair, even though the Township is still seeing more roads built every year.
“Sometimes we have to bite the bullet to maintain our infrastructure,” said Froese.
“We just simply can’t do everything for everyone, not this year,” said Coun. Kim Richter.
The council started the year considering a tax increase of between 4.12 per cent and more than nine percent, with the low end described as a “keep the lights on” budget with no major new projects.
The council will meet again for another budget meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 12 at 1:30 p.m.