Budget debate begins; city eyes .5 to 2% hike

City of Abbotsford staff report cites increases for police, firefighters and possible capital funds.

A municipal tax increase ranging from a half to two per cent was debated at council Monday afternoon.

A staff report indicates a base tax increase of 0.52 per cent (0.42 for police and 0.10 for city operations) is possible, depending on what council wants to accomplish in the coming year.

New financial requests for 2013 total approximately $614,000, or an additional tax increase of 0.54 per cent. Those requests include rural upland drainage ($300,000), a full-time special events co-ordinator position ($100,000), a finance payroll manager ($113,000) and five new firefighters ($110,000). The cost of the firefighters would be only $110,000 this year because the hirings would take place later in the year, and mitigate much of the overtime costs currently paid.

However, if approved, the city is committing to a total of 20 new firefighters – five each year over the next four years – for a total annualized cost of approximately $1.6 million.

Staff have also presented the option of adding a one per cent increase for a capital levy for future projects, bringing the possible hike to just over two per cent.

Significant budget items coming up in the next four years include a proposed YMCA facility which would open in 2016, a new police headquarters in 2017 and improvements to fire halls #4, #6 and #9.

“At this point, this is just information,” said Pat Soanes, the city’s general manager of finance and corporate services.

“Looking at the general state of our capital and the infrastructure requirements going forward, we feel, at staff level, that it’s the right thing to do to raise the discussion again around the capital levy.”

In 2010 and 2011, the city put one per cent towards capital funds, but last year it was removed from the budget.

A one per cent tax increase is equivalent to $1.13 million in city revenue. The average homeowner (based on a house value of $400,000) would see a $19 tax increase for every one per cent rise. The average business or commercial property (again valued at $400,000) would see taxes rise $49 per percentage point increase.

Council is expected to debate the budget over the next six weeks before finalizing the 2013 financial plan.