Proposed city budget aims for 0.44 per cent tax hike

Council begins budget debate, with opportunity for public comment Nov. 4

Council and city staff have started preliminary budget discussions.

Abbotsford taxpayers will see an overall municipal tax increase of less than half a per cent next year, if the proposed 2014 budget is approved.

The city aims to decrease general municipal taxes by a third of a per cent, without cutting services. However, other increases such as requested policing and library funding hikes would result in the half per cent budget bump.

City staff presented the proposed budget to council and the public last Thursday and Friday.

City manager George Murray said, “everything you see today… will be driven by staff finding more efficient and more effective ways to deliver services.”

The city is proposing a decrease in general municipal taxes by .29 per cent, while police have asked for an increase of .58 per cent and the regional library has asked for .15 per cent – generating a total municipal tax of .44 per cent.

Tax hikes in Abbotsford have been decreasing since 2009. That year, taxpayers saw an increase of 5.50 per cent. In 2010 and 2011, taxes went up 4.50 and 4.30 per cent, including a one per cent capital levy.

In 2012, the increase was 1.66 per cent, and this year, taxes went up by 1.28 per cent.

The police department’s request for a .58 per cent increase would require the reduction of four police and one civilian through attrition. The department said a zero per cent increase would mean the reduction of eight police positions, one civilian position and other cuts.

The average resident’s final tax notice is yet undetermined, as it is affected by non-city controlled tax rates, including that of the regional library system, the Fraser Valley Regional District, Metro Vancouver parks, hospitals and the school board.

Abbotsford’s total 2013 budget is about $250 million, with an operating budget of roughly $170 million and a capital budget of $80 million.

Murray said the proposed budget is about addressing the city’s needs, not wants, and proposes that the city pay off its long-term debt early. The city’s current debt level is $78.4 million. Murray said Abbotsford can get to $70.4 million by 2016.

The budget also proposes to build back reserves for the city’s road development cost charges (DCCs), which are currently in the negative.

Major projects were outlined, including a plan to upgrade Highway 11 and build an overpass at Vye Road, which will improve border traffic and increase safety at the Vye Road rail crossing.

The project shares the $25-million cost with the provincial and federal governments, and the city will pay roughly half of its $8-million portion with federal gas tax money.

The city also plans to replace two fire halls – Hall 4 Matsqui and Hall 5 Mt. Lehman – to address seismic and operational constraints. Also proposed are improvements to Clayburn Creek to address flooding.

The parks and recreation department will also seek to develop new sport fields as well as continue land acquisitions around Mill Lake Park.

One of the major projects will be creating a new Official Community Plan (OCP) – the last was drawn up in 2005 – and also creating individual neighbourhood plans with community consultation.

“This excites me the most out of anything in the budget,” said Mayor Bruce Banman.

The budget also includes planning projects for the University of the Fraser Valley U-District, as well as the already approved plan to update the city’s zoning bylaws.

Coun. Henry Braun praised the proposed budget for its fiscal management, stating that though the city has had financial problems in the past, “we are turning this ship around.”

The budget will come before council on Nov. 4 for a review with an opportunity for public comment.

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