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Public interest in Langley City budget is minimal

If many City of Langley residents are upset about the prospect of another municipal tax increase, it would be difficult to tell.

Council gave third reading to its 2013-17 financial plan on Monday night.

Before that happened, the public had an opportunity to provide feedback, but only three people chose to do so. And of those, two found fault with it.

Two residents —  Rhys Griffiths and Paul Albrecht — spoke at the meeting, while one other person submitted a letter to council.

Speaking first, Griffiths told council that his property assessment rose 7.8 per cent in the past year.

“I’m not pleased; it doesn’t endear me to any municipal tax increase of any sort,” he said.

Most of Griffiths’ concerns centred around the City’s largest cost drivers — salaries and benefits — which total around $11 million per year.

In a municipality of just over 25,000 people, there are 14 staff members on salary who make more than $100,000 per year, Griffiths noted.

“Frankly, it astounds me to have that number of employees at that level,” he said.

Asked what is proposed in terms of upcoming salary increases, CAO Francis Cheung explained that because the City is now entering negotiations with CUPE and IAFF (the firefighters’ union) he could not offer specifics.

Mayor Peter Fassbender assured Griffiths that the City’s negotiating staff are going to “do the best deal possible,” both in terms of salaries and benefits.

“We don’t put our position into the public before we sit down to negotiate,” he said.

Council also received a letter from Pam Reid — a 13-year resident of the City, who suggested more cuts could be made to avoid another tax increase.

Reid told council that while she respects their work, “I always feel, at tax time, there could have been just a little bit more done.”

Since the global economic crash of 2008, she noted, “the onus is on cutting back, spending less, tightening the belt.

“We all function off a budget and when times get tough we rake that budget through the coals until we can make it work . . . . We learn to do without a few things and we learn to live leaner until times get better.

“As the saying goes, ‘the public purse is not a bottomless pit.’”

Councillor Ted Schaffer defended the City’s staffing levels, saying they are as lean as they can get in any municipality.

“The letter suggested (the budget) could be pared down. There is no fat to cut away from here,” he said.

“We realize it’s not a bottomless pit.”

Once the budget passes fourth and final reading (likely in early March) City of Langley residents will see their municipal property taxes — including fees for services such as garbage, recycling, water and sewage — rise an average of 1.88 per cent.

For owners of single family dwellings, the increase will be 2.36 per cent, while owners of apartments and condos will see .51 per cent rise.

Taxpayers will also fund a .75 per cent levy, which is expected to raise $160,000 per year to help replace the City’s aging infrastructure.

Council members bicker — see separate story

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