UPDATE: Abbotsford tax increase of 1.72 per cent debated

Abbotsford council will now debate a possible municipal tax increase of 1.72 per cent. However, more changes could still occur.

A municipal tax increase of 1.72 per cent is the latest proposal to be debated by Abbotsford council.

Two weeks ago, an increase of 1.52 per cent was presented by city staff, but that figure did not include requests for increases in funding by eight service groups.

It also did not consider an appeal by Ledgeview Golf and Country Club for $250,000, or a proposed increase in transit service ($170,000).

On Monday, council decided to leave funding for service groups at the same levels as 2011, with the exception of a $25,000 increase to the MSA Museum Society and a $20,000 increase to Abbotsford Restorative Justice.

The extra $45,000 equates to a 0.04 per cent tax increase bringing the 1.52 total to 1.56.

Abbotsford also incorporated the $170,000 for transit service improvements to reach the 1.72 per cent mark.

Council will discuss the Ledgeview request at its March 5 meeting.

“Nothing is solidified,” said Abbotsford Mayor Bruce Banman. “But we’re moving forward right now with the 1.72.”

He said council still reserves the right to make modifications.

“What I’m thrilled with is that this is under what I campaigned on, which is inflation or growth. Inflation is 2.3 per cent. We’re underneath that, so I’m very pleased, considering the original budget preliminary was six per cent – we’ve come a long way,” said Banman.

But some councillors feel the increase could be even lower.

Couns. John Smith and Henry Braun made the argument for a zero per cent increase.

Braun said the population information released by Census Canada shows that Abbotsford has not grown as fast as originally anticipated.

“When you break down the growth over the last five years, it works out to a year-over-year increase of 1.4 per cent for Abbotsford for the last five years. Our budget and our expenses have been rising at a much faster rate,” said Braun.

Using the police budget as an example, he said it is based on 650 people to one police officer. But the new population figures mean the city actually has a ratio of 618 people to one officer.

“I really think we need to have a serious second look at both our police and fire budgets and even city hall, and what we’re doing here,” said Braun.

Of the 1.72 per cent tax increase that has been proposed, 1.1 per cent is earmarked for policing.

Smith agreed with Braun’s comments, saying more cuts could be found in all departments.

“I think we could probably get this budget down to zero, quite frankly,” said Smith.

Abbotsford Fire Services is planning to hire five more firefighters in the final quarter of the year. By hiring late, the move only has a $70,000 impact on this year’s budget, but a total $1.5 million hit over the next four years.

Councillors will continue to debate the budget on Feb. 27 and hope to have a final budget proposal by March 5.

In order to create a 1.72 tax increase, the city has suggested several cuts, including:

  • Eliminating the one per cent contribution to capital;

  • Reduce the existing annual capital contribution by $500,000;

  • Departmental restructuring;

  • q Reduce litter pickup contract and;

  • Cutting or deferring of dozens of smaller capital project requests.