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City taxes up to pay for crumbling infrastructure

Darrin Leite presented the City’s 2014 financial plan at an open house on Feb. 5. - submitted photo
Darrin Leite presented the City’s 2014 financial plan at an open house on Feb. 5.
— image credit: submitted photo

Rising labour and policing costs and infrastructure that is rapidly approaching the end of its useful life are among the reasons that Langley City home and business owners will see their tax bill rise again this year.

On Feb. 3, Langley City council began debating a budget that calls for an overall tax increase of 2.71 per cent which aims to put an additional $593,250 in City coffers in 2014.

Owners of detached homes will see that increase of 2.71 per cent on their tax notices this year, while strata owners — condos and townhouses — are looking at a one per cent jump.

In practical terms, that means the average single family dwelling will pay $2,731 — up about $72 over 2013 — while strata property owners will see their taxes rise from $1,262 last year to $1,275 in 2014 — a $13 increase.

Those figures include a .75 per cent infrastructure levy — for a total of $164,000 — which will go into a fund dedicated to the replacement of aging sewer and water lines, road repair, traffic signals, etc.

Pipes are normally expected to last 50 to 60 years, explained City CAO Francis Cheung. Most of the lines south of the Nicomekl floodplain were installed in the 1970s, but acidic soil has led to a faster-than-average corrosion of the pipes, meaning they will need to be replaced over the next several years.

In addition to the $164,000 — which, from a capital perspective, isn’t a lot of money, said Cheung — the City is also committing $500,000 from taxation to capital works reserve.

The City’s goal is not just to maintain the status quo, but to get ahead of the curve, said Cheung.

“We need to replace what we’re losing in terms of casino revenue,” he said, referring to the municipality’s major source of capital funding.

The City receives 10 per cent of Cascades Casino’s net proceeds each year. Its gaming funds peaked in 2007, when the City took in just over $7 million. Since then, proceeds have steadily declined each year because of online gaming and other competition.

In 2013, the City received $5.78 million and it expects to take in $5.75 million in 2014.

In addition to funding capital projects, a portion of the City’s casino revenue also goes into an enterprise fund which can be spent at council’s discretion, while another portion is distributed each year in the form of community grants.

Policing and municipal wages, are once again the two largest cost drivers in the City of Langley.

Salaries and wages for City employees as well as council remuneration, will total $11.8 million in 2014, up from $11. 4 million last year. Policing costs, meanwhile, are set to rise by $252,000 to just over $10.3 million. More than one-third of the proposed property tax increase is earmarked to pay for both local policing — which the City shares with the Township — as well as helping to pay for the Lower Mainland’s eight integrated teams, including homicide investigation, traffic enforcement and gang-related issues. Overall policing costs account for nearly half the City’s annual taxation revenue (45 per cent).

However, the City also banked a $600,000 operating surplus in 2013, thanks in large part to the collection of unanticipated development fees which were paid earlier than expected.

Following the Feb. 3 presentation by Darrin Leite, the City’s director of corporate services, Councillor Dave Hall suggested a number of changes could be made to the budget in light of the surplus.

One major project on the horizon this year is the long-awaited construction of a new Timms Community Centre, which is expected to break ground in the fall.

At $14.3 million, the new community centre will contain all the amenities of the former centre — a weight room, space for fitness classes community meeting rooms — as well as a gymnasium.

Of that figure, $11 million will come from casino funds, $3 million from the capital works fund and $150,000 each from the City’s off-street parking fund  and the 2013 surplus.

“Why are we not targeting more of the surplus directly to Timms?” asked Hall, who suggested the scope of the recreation centre could be much greater than it is.

Garbage and recycling fees, meanwhile, are budgeted to remain the same as last year, but Hall is calling for a rebate for residents, saying they were overcharged last year for services that were not delivered.

However, Leite is uncomfortable with the idea, he said, because there is some uncertainty about the scope of the recycling program in the coming year.

Plans are in the works to exclude glass containers — such as pickle jars — from the recycling stream. Instead, residents will be asked to return glass to a local recycling depot on their own.

While some people may take on the responsibility, two other possible outcomes are that residents will simply begin throwing glass directly into the trash or they will continue to include it in their blue box recycling.

If heavy glass containers are tossed into the garbage, tipping fees — which are based on weight — will rise accordingly, said Cheung.

And if people continue to put glass in their recycling containers and the materials are discovered, the City will be fined $5,000 per load.

“We don’t want to get ourselves in a situation where we offer a rebate and then find we have extra costs,” he said.

Excluding the unexpected $600,000 windfall, the City came within one per cent of its budget last year, said Cheung,

“With the variables we have to face as a local government, to come within one per cent, I think we’re doing well,” he added.

Municipalities are required by law to balance their budgets, noted Leite. “We have to budget for every dollar we have to spend. “

Final adoption is expected to happen on March 3.

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