City candidates respond to Times questions
The Times has asked two questions of the candidates running in the Nov. 19 local elections. Almost all of them have responded, and their answers provide more information to potential voters. These are the answers to the following questions from candidates for Langley City council.
1. Will you support an impartial study on amalgamation of the City and Township, if asked to do so by petition?
2. How can the City reduce annual property tax increases to no more than two per cent?
Peter Fassbender, candidate for mayor
1. I have been clear that Langley City Council has prepared a summary of numerous studies done across the country on the issue of Amalgamation of local governments. Based on that extensive review, which is posted on the City of Langley’s Website (www.city.langley.bc.ca), I would not support spending taxpayers money on another study that would look at the same issues. If a clear and new business case can be made for another study that warrants another new study I would be prepared to consider it. Currently the rationale proposed for a study is fundamentally based on the superficial issue of why are there two Langleys, not on any viable question.
2. The only way we can hold property tax increases to no more than two percent is work diligently with staff and Council to find economies within our existing departments/budgets and to attempt to negotiate collective agreements that reflect the economic realities of City and region. In the City we are fortunate that we are debt free and direct the majority of our casino revenue to our Capital Replacement Program, thereby avoiding having to borrow any money to provide the needed capital programs for all the citizens of the City. The only other way to hold the increase at two percent is reduce services if necessary. I have supported having staff prepare a two percent budget target.
Ron Abgrall, candidate for mayor, did not provide answers to The Times
Paul Albrecht, candidate for council
1. As an elected representative, I will have a duty to receive any petition from residents. That said, the City has prepared a substantive report reviewing amalgamations within other jurisdictions. I believe amalgamation would force City residents to compete for dollars they do not compete for presently. Future loss of political representation will be to the detriment of City residents as the City would become one amongst many communities. Amalgamation is not in the best interests of our community.
2. Due to aging infrastructure, costs associated with protective services; continued downloading of responsibilities by senior governments, and demands for improved services, achieving a two per cent or less tax increase is challenging and not without consequences. Achieving said rate will require senior governments to provide increased resources. Residents will have to temper calls for more services. Candidates seeking office need to be honest with taxpayers, if two per cent or less is what taxpayers covet.
Jack Arnold, candidate for council
1. Define impartial. My experience is that those who say they want a “study” on amalgamation really want amalgamation. Any study that did not support their point of view would be discounted. They would continue to want another study and another and so on and so on and so forth until they got one that went their way. Any petition on an issue that affects the continued existence of the City should only be signed by residents of the City. The vast majority of people that I have talked to who live in the City do not want amalgamation. Neither do I.
2. Interesting question. Any Council can hold tax increases to anything they want. The question is, what do you not want money spent on? Therein lies the rub. Everyone I know has things they dearly love and want to see continued if not expanded. Everyone also has things they view as unnecessary and would like to see scrapped. Try sitting at the Council table and deciding which are which. For example, I have run businesses. I have never laid anyone off or cut their pay. But I have never hired anyone new in tough times either. Other people would and do disagree with that perspective. All I can promise is that I will work as hard as possible to keep any tax increases to a minimum. I personally believe two per cent or less is doable.
Randy Caine, candidate for council
1. The greatest strength of any legitimate council is the degree in which the community participates in the decision making process. Petitions are the fundamental tools for the community and its citizens in that process and need to be seen and respected as such. Petitions are the voices of the community and when that voice is strong it deserves to be heard. If elected I would, of course, support an independent and impartial amalgamation study, if that were the wish of the community.
2. Of course this would be great opportunity to give you a slick answer about being more fiscally prudent, suggesting cutting services as a way out or just flatly stating that “if elected I will do my best to keep taxation to a minimum” and so on and so on.
The fact is, things do cost more over time. And as those things are largely about the needs of a community, any tax increases or cuts to services must be determined by that community, not vague election promises.
Dave Hall, candidate for council
1. Local autonomy is already eroded through shared “services” for police, water, sewer, and TransLink, and look at the cost escalations in those areas rubber stamped by Mayor’s Councils and Metro Boards. Is bigger really better? One only needs to look at the “amalgamated” Langley School District to observe an example of the financial chaos that City residents could experience. Why would a debt-free City with a developed infrastructure want to absorb the liabilities and self-serving priorities of others?”
2. Restrict wage settlements to an inflation rate ceiling. Work toward the elimination of “me-too” clauses and settlements tied to “metro averages.” Accepted service improvements to be balanced by reductions/efficiencies. Revise Casino Revenue Policy — use a portion to fund offloaded/worthwhile social assistance programs. Restructure Metro Boards and TransLink governance. Oppose further property tax grabs from TransLink.
Bank present “surpluses” in an Operations Reserve, and with this insurance, curtail the practice of underestimating revenues and over-estimating expenditures.
Dave Humphries, candidate for council
1. I would not direct any funds to look at or study amalgamation with the Township unless there was a clear mandate from the citizens of the City of Langley. This directive would need to come from City residents. I enjoy the level of service we receive in the City, be it very direct access to services from permits, to Councillors even the Mayor or the simple fact that all of our roads are safely maintained through the worst winter weather. I also have witnessed a very poor track record of legal battles in the Township municipal structure over the last 10-11 years. Not only am I troubled at seeing those costs, but there are the hidden costs of lost staff time and ineffective governance and morale that are affected.
2. The City needs to plan to offset rising costs of the services that are offered at the municipal level with a well planned budget involving not only the City and its employees but also the private sector that provides many of the services we receive. Use of RFP’s and similar documents for the contracts services that are supplied to the City brings discussion and creative ideas on how to supply the same or better service for less money. Contractors are one of our best resources, let’s use their knowledge to our benefit.
Also the use of our City private and public land in the future will be a factor. As costs rise we need to plan for future tax base growth. To grow this tax base may mean creative changes to land use in certain areas, whether minimum lot sizes should be looked at again or the construction of duplexes on single family lots. All these need to involve the various communities within Langley City. We must ensure preservation of our green spaces for future generations.
Teri James, candidate for council
1. The City of Langley has already prepared a comprehensive report on amalgamation, including studies from other amalgamated communities and what the financial impact would be if we were to combine the Township’s substantial debt with the City’s debt free status. At this point I see no reason to support, at a cost to our Langley City taxpayers, a study on amalgamation.
2. If the non-discretionary costs to the City were more than two per cent, then service levels would have to be reduced. To suggest the use of Casino revenues to mitigate taxes by putting them towards operating in any way, is in my opinion, irresponsible. If we ever lost our casino revenue then we would have to raise taxes even more so to fund those operating expenses. We’re fortunate that we have the casino revenue for capital projects, so we don’t have to use tax money to fund these projects as well.
Darrell Krell, candidate for council
1. No, I would not support funding such a study with taxpayer dollars.
2. I believe a two percent increase is too high. My goal is to have no increase in property taxes. A balanced budget is obtainable with prioritized spending measures in place. In these challenging economic times, we must establish a clear and decisive plan of action to maximize the value from every one of our tax dollars. Some of the motions I would put forward would include:
- The Mayor and Council to lead by example by deferring any wage or benefit increase.
- Initiate a staff hiring freeze; and
- Begin dialogue on the best use of surplus capital reserve to augment any gaps in order to balance the budget.
Gayle Martin, candidate for council
1. No, I would not support an independent study on amalgamation. Studies have been done over the years and from what I have read there is no evidence to support it. Given the City is debt free, why would City taxpayers want to take on the $79-plus million dollar debt of the Township plus their infrastructure needs.
2. It is expected the tax increase will be about two per cent for 2012. Having said that, there are several tax exemptions given to properties in the city, I believe a closer look should be taken at those exemptions, as all taxpayers are contributing.
Catfish Potesta, candidate for council
1. Amalgamation or Reunification, two very big words.
Reunification as between East and West Germany 20 years ago, with the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. I really do not think the City and Township are in that kind of a battle.
The above suggestion is like a proposed marriage, without prejudice, if I may.
Party A might have accumulated a fair share of assets, money, vehicles, mortgage free and no outstanding debts.
Party B might have a car and a house, that the bank owns, septic field instead of a sewer system, and maxed out credit cards.
They wed, and Party A assumes all of Party B’s outstanding debts, and gets hooked up to sewer and because they are in love, live happily ever after.
It is not like two similar businesses merging with the same customer base and territory to look after, the two Langleys are unique.
I was advised this impartial study would cost $1 to $3 per person. Supporting it would not be in my nor the City’s better interest.
2. Anything is possible but at what cost, you just have to monitor money in and money out. With all of the recent wire thefts from City lights, that is an unexpected item to budget for as well now, or maybe at the expense cut of a certain program. In this challenging economic time we are facing, the City, along with other municipalities, are all trying to tighten their belts on spending, and simultaneously have to balance to make ends meet.
As we have an aging infrastructure, we have to assess, and prioritize what needs to be replaced immediately, and stagger other items that can wait over a period of time. The alternative is to do nothing at all. If you look at your property tax notice, it identifies what percentage and dollars go where, with the largest portions to schools and police service. The only one I’d question our return on our investment is TransLink.
Ted Schaffer, candidate for council
1. I am personally not in favour of amalgamation and do not see how it would benefit the residents of Langley City. The City is currently debt free with a positive cash flow. I believe the residents and taxpayers are served well with the staff and resources, and an amalgamation study is not in their best interest.
2. As an elected official, I will try my best to keep taxes as low as possible but infrastructure, wages, cost of goods and services, as well as the world economy all have a bearing on local taxation.
Rudy Storteboom, candidate for council
1. It is not in the best interest of the City of Langley to take over the Township, at this time. I support the extensive internal report (posted online) rather than an expensive external report proposed by One Langley.
The City should receive and review the petition, determine if it represents City residents and engage the public before paying for a new study.
2. I’m up for the challenge, but it won’t be easy. About 52 per cent of our property taxes are paid to Metro Vancouver for sewer, water and transportation services. Variables include snow clearing, wire theft and vandalism. The City pays 90 per cent of the cost for local policing. Reducing taxes is more than cutting flowers and Christmas lights from the budget.
Now that the debt is paid off, we don’t pay interest service charges. Future capital projects are already attached to funding sources. Careful financial management is already reducing tax increases.
Rosemary Wallace, candidate for council
1. At this time I could not support an impartial study on amalgamation of the City and Township, if asked to so by petition because I feel we would be sacrificing the needs within the City. I feel that in order to become a sustainable City we need to focus on creating densification, stronger inner city programming, affordable housing and be able to support and expand on local businesses. I feel that the many needs of our Cities residents would be spread too thin. If the Langleys were to become one, the taxes would surely go up because there is much needed upgrade of infrastructure throughout the Township.
Resources needed in a larger geographical area would be spread too thin as well.
2. It would be awesome to hold the taxes under two percent. As a councillor, I see how the City staff along with council work hard to do so. There are many needs within the City and we are able to concentrate on the aging infrastructure through casino funding so to alleviate the tax burden on the citizens, leaving us to concentrate on quality programming for all, and the necessary upgrades to our well-utilized City facilities. I feel we must continue to be aware of how much our residents pay already in taxes and continue to work towards meeting the basic needs of our citizens through building a safe, viable and sustainable City.