Councillor Kim Richter called for a two per cent cap on tax increases, as Langley Township council faced an increase of between four and 9.7 per cent as the budget process began on Monday, Jan. 20. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)

Tax hikes possible in Township as budget talks begin

Just “keeping the lights on” could cost 4.12 per cent in tax increases

Property taxes could rise between 4.12 and 9.7 per cent in Langley Township in 2020, unless the council finds cost savings during this year’s budget process.

Township council kicked off the 2020 municipal budget process on the afternoon of Monday, Jan. 20 with a presentation by director of finance Karen Sinclair.

Sinclair emphasized there has been an issue with increasing costs facing the Township on a number of fronts.

“It has been a tough one,” Sinclair said.

“It’s important to note as we begin this process that we’re probably going to make your head hurt,” Township administrator Mark Bakken told the council.

He said that none of the numbers presented Monday are a recommendation – the Township council will ultimately decide where to set the tax rate, but staff are laying out the challenges facing them as costs go up.

If the Township does nothing but maintain its existing services, the cost “to keep the lights on,” it would result in a 4.12 per cent tax increase this year, Sinclair said.

But she noted that maintaining services has increasingly been a struggle for the Township staff, and that’s why staff are asking for more funding in some areas.

Staff are looking at another 2.72 per cent for programs and contract increases, which would bring the total to 6.84 per cent.

Additional potential costs in the draft base budget, which could include increases in infrastructure and protective services spending, would bring the total increase to 9.7 per cent.

Cost drivers include everything from more RCMP officers, to the fact that 2020 is a Leap Year, which means staff paid hourly will be paid for 262 days instead of 261 work days for the year.

“While it doesn’t look like a lot here, it can add up,” Sinclair said of the Leap Year issue.

The costs of water and sewer fees, which are separate from property taxes, are also facing increases of 6.5 per cent due to Metro Vancouver building new reservoirs and upgrading sewage treatment plants, due to both growth and stricter environmental regulation for waste.

There are increased costs to maintain new infrastructure the Township builds or acquires from developers in growing areas, from roads and sidewalks to parks and medians.

Sinclair said the Township staff have been trying to keep a lid on cost increases over the past few years, but it’s becoming more difficult.

Councillor Kim Richter suggested that council should limit increases to two per cent at most, and asked several questions about expenses and whether they’re absolutely necessary for public safety.

“What if we don’t maintain existing service levels?” Richter asked.

The example of cutting the grass on playing fields more or less frequently was tossed around by several councillors and staff as the type of cost that is potentially variable.

Township councillors are expected to debate specific changes. Sinclair fielded a number of questions about various programs, and staff will bring more information to the council as they debate further.

At the end of the meeting, Richter asked for an amendment to the budget document to reduce the maximum tax increase to no more than three per cent. Coun. Eric Woodward seconded the motion.

“I appreciate the need to lower the number,” said Coun. Blair Whitmarsh. “I think it’s premature to identify the specific number.”

He said he would prefer to wait to identify a number until the next special budget meeting.

“I have the same concern, because we’re putting numbers out there that we can’t really justify,” said Coun. Bob Long.

He said the entire council would like to bring the number down.

Woodward said he supported Richter’s intent, but would like to see the whole budget, including capital plans before making decisions.

He asked Richter to bring the idea back later in the process.

“I don’t think anyone at this table wants a 9.7 per cent,” said Coun. Steve Ferguson.

Richter’s amendment was defeated.

Last year, the Township passed a budget with a 3.85 per cent tax increase.

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