Exactly how – and exactly how much – should Port Moody change over the next four years?
That was the overarching question as mayoral candidates Meghan Lahti and Steve Milani each made their case to lead the City of the Arts into the future.
Lahti told the crowd at Inlet Theatre she was urged to run for mayor by a community eager for change.
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“They want us to get away from the divisive nature and the negativity that’s been plaguing us for four years,” she said.
“This election is all about growth,” Milani told the crowd. “To see who actually supports moderate growth, it’s simple: stop listening to our words and start looking at the votes.”
Where they split
The two candidates – each of whom is currently serving on Port Moody city council – split on several votes over the last term. Lahti supported a two-building, 222-unit project at St. Johns Street, as well as a 215 unit project on the 3000-block of Murray Street. Milani opposed both those developments.
The two candidates also differed on plans for the pending 2,665-unit Coronation Park project, with Lahti urging her colleagues to support a neighbourhood for a new generation of Port Moody residents. Milani has been critical of the project for being too dense and beyond the scale of the official community plan.
During his closing remarks, Milani said the city should support the development of, “human-scale buildings that are better for the environment and better for our mental health.”
The city and debt
Asked about the possibility of city debt burdening Port Moody taxpayers, Milani told the crowd the city had a balanced budget.
“We are not operating a deficit,” he said. “If you’ve heard that, that is a mistruth.”
Milani explained that he goes over budget items line by line, looking for places to save money, as well as having city staff report on places where the city can cut spending.
“We have to do all that we can to keep taxes down but our residents like our services,” Milani said.
The city has relied on taxpayers to support new amenities, Lahti said.
“We are about $23 million in debt,” she said. “We need to concentrate on doing our core services and doing them well, and we need to get away from spending so much time trying to micromanage staff.”
The city needs to bring in sustainable revenue through smart growth, Lahti said. By concentrating growth near transit hubs, the city could leverage opportunities with partners – including senior levels of government – to pay for big ticket items like a new rec centre or affordable housing.
Port Moody was “virtually debt-free in 2004,” with a debt-per-capita of $5.
However, the city opted to take on debt to renovate the rec complex and to replace both the police building and Fire Hall #1 between 2005 and 2013, according to Port Moody’s 2022-2026 financial plan.
After the rec complex debt was paid off, the city used some of the cash earmarked for that debt to pay for “emergency and backlogged repairs” to city hall, the rec complex, and the Port Moody Arts Centre.
Repurposing that debt allowed the city to avoid a tax increase, according to the report.
“Using debt to finance large capital projects allows those projects to proceed sooner,” the report stated.
The city’s debt-per-capita is at $542 for 2022. The debt-per-capita is slated to decrease to $376 by 2026.
Discussing how best to foster prosperity in the city, Lahti underscored the need for a new culture.
Workers need reliable transit, affordable housing, efficient development processes, and “a culture where commerce and creativity can thrive,” Lahti said.
During the looming OCP update, the city needs to give clear direction on job creation, Milani said.
“I think we have to make it extremely easy for businesses to get started,” he said.
The Sept. 28 meeting was organized by the Tri-City Chamber of Commerce.