Including property taxes and utilities, Coquitlam property owners will be paying the city an average of $3,834 this year – an increase of $179 from 2022.
Council approved a 5.48 percent property tax increase in a 7-1 vote Monday night. Coun. Dennis Marsden cast the dissenting vote.
That increase is the result of about $9.1 million in new city spending, with the biggest costs including $1.8 million for the RCMP contract and a $3.2 million increase to the city’s operating budget.
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The city is facing numerous financial pressures, noted Mayor Richard Stewart, who listed supply chain issues, labour shortages, and an approximately four percent inflation rate.
Stewart also mentioned the cost of the “federally negotiated” RCMP contract, which amounts to almost one-fifth of this year’s tax increase.
“But no matter what is happening around us, we can’t set aside our obligation to provide the many services that our community, our residents, rely on,” he said.
Stewart also underscored the need to serve future generations by putting more money toward keeping city assets in good condition.
“We’ve identified a gap between these eventual costs and how much we’re saving for them. The gap is not good in this case,” Stewart said.
The budget includes an extra $2.3 million earmarked for infrastructure sustainability. In addition to paying for a new digital strategy manager as well as business and systems analysts, that fund is meant to cover the cost of maintaining – and eventually replacing – city assets.
It’s crucial the city sock money away to ease the burden faced by the next generation, Stewart said.
“They will face more storms. They will face because more extreme weather events, largely because of previous generations,” the mayor said. “We need to make sure that we are putting this community in the best position to weather those storms.”
Over the past few decades, Coquitlam has succeeded in moving from spending money to managing it, according to Coun. Dennis Marsden.
However, Marsden questioned whether the “pendulum has swung a little bit too far” in terms of the city’s asset management fund.
The city has tripled its asset replacement fund in the last three years, Marsden said. While that funding may be necessary, it’s critical the city investigate other ways to foot the bill.
“What other revenue streams do we have as opposed to just dipping into the taxpayers’ pocket every single time?” Marsden asked.
While there may be a degree of “sticker shock” for residents, Coun. Steve Kim defended the budget, which he said was a balanced approach to providing services while keeping costs low.
“Did I want this to be lower?” Kim asked. “Yes, absolutely. Was it possible to also go higher? Yes, as well.”
In addition to allocating $1.8 million toward the RCMP contract increase, the city is also putting $1 million toward a public safety fund. That fund is meant to pay for five new RCMP members as well as a fire prevention inspector.
Noting that, “some people may not feel as safe as they used to,” Coun. Craig Hodge listed community safety as a top priority.
“I wish that we could have hired the 11 officers that our officer-in-charge believes that we need, but this is a start,” Hodge said.
Noting recent wildfires “on Coquitlam’s doorstep,” Coun. Matt Djonlic praised the inclusion of a new fire prevention inspector.
Combined, the public safety fund and the RCMP contract increase account for about 30 percent of the tax hike.
The city is projecting six percent property tax increases each year from 2024 to 2027.
Key costs include the Spani Pool overhaul, renovating the former Innovation Centre, as well as building the 80,000-square foot North East Community Centre on Burke Mountain for a cost of approximately $132 million.
The city provides tax exemptions to 48 properties including 31 places of worship, six non-profit organizations, six residential care facilities, and five recreational lands. All told, those exemptions add up to about $1.74 million.
A good compromise leaves everyone unhappy
Several councillors noted that the budget included a great deal of compromise.
“When you’re on the outside, I know what it looks like. . . . I promise you, it is not a done deal,” commented Coun. Robert Mazzarolo. “There is more disagreement than you probably think there is.”
“No there isn’t,” disagreed Stewart, drawing a few chuckles.
Coun. Brent Asmundson did not attend the meeting.