News

City taxes set to rise

City of Langley residents can once again expect to see an increase in their tax bills this spring.

From deteriorating infrastructure to the cost of lending library books, the City foresees a steady increase in the price of doing business over the next five years.

The City of Langley's draft financial plan for 2013-2017, presented to council on Monday night, calls for an overall tax revenue increase of 1.88 per cent in the coming year. That's what it will take to raise an additional $397,140 — the amount of money the City needs in order to maintain the same level of service offered in 2012, explained Darrin Leite, director of corporate services.

Actual dollar amounts will range from home to home, but using an average single family dwelling — of which the City has 3,389 — and an average strata property — there are 5,561 in the City — Leite presented council with an example of what residents can expect if the budget passes, as is.

An average single family home in Langley City, with an assessed value of $459,023, will see a tax increase of $61 or 2.36 per cent.

Broken down, the municipal tax amount rises by $38, while the water rate goes up $13 and sewer rate increases by $10.

An average strata home valued at $210,247, meanwhile, will see its overall tax bill rise by $6, or 0.51 per cent. Municipal taxes for the property are down $7, due to a drop in assessments since last year. However the water rate is up by $7 and the sewer rate rises $6.

There will be no increase in garbage or recycling fees for either strata or detached homes.

Garbage costs are down and recycling costs are up, explained Leite. But because of the difference in tipping fees (recycling fees are roughly half those of garbage fees) the overall rate for collection remains the same as last year.

The draft financial plan also includes a new levy of .75 per cent for a total of $160,000 per year to help reduce the infrastructure deficit.

The City of Langley is one of many communities across Canada plagued by aging infrastructure. The majority of pipes running underground in the City are about 40 years old. Normally, a lifespan of 80 years can be expected, but acidic soil conditions in the region put the actual time closer to 50 years, explained Leite, adding the pipes will cost $700 per metre to replace.

The draft budget sets aside $12.5 million to be spent on that work over 10 years — although that amount is significantly lower than the $21 million required to complete the work, said Leite. It's the maximum the city can afford.

"We're trying to build up that amount of money over time, hence the .75 per cent (infrastructure) levy."

Although the City does not budget for a surplus, every year some money remains unspent for one reason or another.

In past years, the full amount of the surplus has been placed in capital reserves, however, this year $210,000 of the anticipated $560,000 surplus from 2012 will be allocated to an operating fund that can be drawn on as needed for unforeseen expenses such as a heavy demand for snow removal.

It is a move that was praised on Monday evening by Councillor Dave Hall, who has been pushing for the change for  the past four years.

If the City had begun using its surplus for tax stabilization then, he said, there would be no need to worry about potential cost spikes now.

Before staff began the budgeting process, council challenged them to be less conservative on both their revenue and expenditure estimates. So staff budgeted more income from such things as development permits and applications and anticipated lower expenses in the areas of snow removal, legal fees and insurance deductibles.

"The total of all those things added up to $210,000," explained Leite.

The City's largest cost driver is still salaries and benefits, while policing fees account for more than $9.6 million. That's up $421,000 over last year.

Another area where costs have risen significantly in the City is its library, in part because the Fraser Valley Regional Library has raised its materials fees by five per cent this year.

In total, the City will pay $1,123,565 to FVRL to run a library in the City in 2013. That includes an additional $71,415 over last year.

The increase is also due to the fact that fewer books are being borrowed from the City of Langley library by residents of other communities, while City residents are borrowing more materials from libraries outside the municipality, Leite explained.

In terms of personnel, the City has budgeted for one additional half-time position for an emergency services clerk.

The position, which is shared with the Township and already exists as a part-time job, will be made a full-time position. The City's share for that amounts to $17,325.

Casino proceeds, meanwhile, are trending downward, said Leite, and the City expects to take in $5.75 million this year, compared to $5.93 million in 2012. That money will be divided between a council enterprise fund, community grants and a capital works fund.

Following Leite's presentation, Councillor Ted Schaffer took a moment to outline the benefits the City has enjoyed from having Cascades Casino within its boundaries for the past eight years.

In that time, the City has received more than $49 million in casino proceeds, allowing it to pay off a $9 million water debt and become one of very few debt-free municipalities.

In addition, $36 million in capital funds has either been spent or allocated on projects that otherwise would not have been completed.

"I commend staff for trying to hold the numbers down, but I think we can go further," said Councillor Dave Hall, adding his property taxes have doubled since 1994.

Hall suggested some of the capital projects taken on by the City have been more cosmetic than functional and some he characterized as frivolous.

Although he is comfortable with the infrastructure levy, Hall suggested asking the public whether they support it.

He also wondered aloud whether future surplus funds might not be better put toward the new Timms Recreation Centre or perhaps an arts centre.

The draft financial plan passed first and second reading on Monday night.

The entire 199-page document can be viewed on the City's website at www.city.langley.bc.ca, where a summary fact sheet can also be found.

Questions can be posed to the City through both Twitter and Facebook. As well, an open house will be held at City Hall on Wednesday, Feb. 6, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Members of the public are invited to drop in and go over the plan with City staff.

On Monday, Feb. 18, during a committee of the whole, the public is welcome to speak to council about the proposed budget ahead of its regular meeting.

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