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Council personalities briefly outweigh budget percentages

It became as much about personalities as percentages for a few minutes on Monday night, as Langley City council gave third reading to the municipality's 2013 financial plan.

The budget, which is scheduled to go to fourth and final reading on March 4, calls for an average tax increase of 1.8 per cent as well as a .75 per cent infrastructure levy.

For the first time in four years, Councillor Dave Hall announced he would vote in favour of the budget, but not before trying — without success — to convince his colleagues to make a number of last minute changes.

Hall first asked council to assign $21,000 from 2012's $560,000 surplus to the 2013 operating reserve and, in turn, to reduce the proposed levy from .75 per cent to .65 per cent, assigning the dollar equivalent from the same 2012 surplus to the operating reserve.

Both motions died without being seconded.

Hall's motion that a maximum raise of two per cent be set for the mayor, council members and staff (where contractually possible) also died without a seconder.

He did receive support from Councillors Ted Schaffer and Jack Arnold, however, for his motion that the City reject joining the Township in funding the increase of a half time emergency co-ordinator position to a full-time position. That effort was defeated in a 4-3 vote.

After four years of pushing for council to put a portion of its surplus into an operating fund, rather than commit it to capital reserves, Hall claimed a victory on that front, but added that $21,000 was too low a figure.

"People wonder I keep plugging away each year," said Hall.

"I'm pleased that after four years, we have an operating reserve.

"I tried today to provide a little more comfort. There was an opportunity to add more, but it was met with silence," he said.

"Wisdom sometimes takes a while to acquire."

In making those comments, Hall raised a few hackles among some of his fellow council members.

"Councillor Hall has every right to do everything he can to reduce taxes," said Rosemary Wallace. "But I disagree with the way you go about it," she told him.

"Thank you for all you do, but when you make comments about (people's) wisdom ..." she said.

"If people around the council table would work on their delivery for the next budget, it may bear fruit," added Schaffer.

"In making decisions there's debate and difference of opinions, but the ability to respect (fellow council members) is paramount," said Mayor Peter Fassbender, adding that he personally took offense to comments made earlier by Hall, regarding the transparency of council's actions and the notion that council "all of a sudden found a new account."

"Every year the surplus goes into a reserve to support infrastructural renewal," said Fassbender, adding it's simply prudent.

"I'll acknowledge it must be difficult for you to eat crow at this point," Hall replied.

Commenting that there is clearly only one person at the council table who knows anything, Councillor Gayle Martin said that while it would be nice to have a zero per cent increase, it's not realistic.

With the cost of everything — including gas and electricity— going up, "a 1.8 per cent increase is not a lot," she said.

Arnold used his turn to speak to rail against the infrastructure levy.

He said council was well aware that its infrastructure was crumbling eight years ago, when the City first got the casino.

"I suggested at the time we should be taking part of the casino revenue and putting it in the bank to meet infrastructure needs. I was told, it was a stupid idea and it would never work," he said.

"Now I'm told it's a great idea, but we'll get it from the taxpayers.

"It think that sucks — to the point that I was thinking about voting against the budget, but then I'd have to vote against the whole budget.

"As a taxpayer, I'm pissed off.

"We couldn't take money from the casino and do that, but we'll take it from your pocket."

Unlike Arnold, Teri James said she was happy with the overall budget.

"A lot of work has been done, taxpayers are being treated fairly, we're holding the line — we're a lean machine," said James.

"It's been a team effort, despite what I'm hearing here with my own ears," she added.

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