Council candidate Chad Eros answers a question during Tuesday's all-candidates meeting at Evergreen Hall.

Talking taxes: council candidates weigh in

Most candidates vying for a seat on council advocated ongoing fiscal restraint as the best way to keep taxes low in Chilliwack.

Most candidates vying for a seat on council advocated ongoing fiscal restraint as the best way to keep taxes low in Chilliwack.

Chilliwack’s tax increase has been pegged at 3.95 per cent for the past two years, which is lower than both Abbotsford’s and Langley’s, with 5 per cent and 4.95 per cent increases respectively, according to city officials.

Municipal candidate were asked this week by The Progress: “Chilliwack prides itself on a relatively low residential tax rate, and one of the lowest business tax multipliers in the Lower Mainland. What would you do to maintain that standard while continuing to deliver critical services residents have come to expect?”

Some candidates went so far as to say they’d support “a zero tax increase,” while others argued a frugal financial approach is already responsible for low tax rates compared to other communities.

One stressed that job creation was the best way to generate more tax revenue from both businesses and residents, while another said municipalities should be given the ability to diversify revenue sources instead of relying on taxes tied to property values.

The debt-free approach the city has taken with its “pay as you go” philosophy for civic projects does help keep Chilliwack’s taxes low, according to several candidates.

There was also recognition by at least one candidate that recent tax increases were mainly to cover inflationary costs, while at least two others advocated a much more vigorous streamlining of the city budget for next year, favouring across the board department cuts of up to seven per cent.

Keeping tax rates competitive will be especially critical to Chilliwack’s ability to attract new business, said one candidate, and the city should do everything it can to keep taxes low.

Another said the focus should be on safety and improvements rather than expansion and said the city could even reduce taxes despite the recession.

Candidates’ full answers on the tax question can be found online at www.theprogress.com

The Progress asked city council candidates the following question: Chilliwack prides itself on a relatively low residential tax rate, and one of the lowest business tax multipliers in the Lower Mainland. What would you do to maintain that standard while continuing to deliver critical services residents have come to expect?

 

Chuck Stam:

Our low tax rates comparative to neighbouring municipalities is to the credit of decades of frugal leadership in the City of Chilliwack both political and administrative. To retain this; keep doing what we’ve been doing! It takes the entire organization at your City Hall to work daily at providing good value for tax dollars. This requires constant improvement and finding ways to lower our cost of delivering our services while remaining responsive to the public’s ever growing expectations.

 

Ron Wedel:

I would tweak the way the departments do their budgeting. All levels of government have the same system.  Every department makes up their budget every year and they spend their allotment wisely throughout the year.  As the end of the fiscal year draws nearer, they realize that they will have a surplus at the end of the year. The departments fear having next year’s budget reduced because of their surplus, so the different departments spend whatever surplus they have usually in an unnecessary expenditure. With my method, I would assure their departments would not have their budget slashed the next year if they have a surplus at the end of the year. Instead, I would take that surplus and divide it in half.  One half would stay with the department in an emergency fund so that if an unexpected expense came up they could dip into their emergency fund to help out.  For example an unexpected amount of snowfall could happen which could increase the cost of removal so much the budget is overrun so if there is an emergency fund, it could go to help offset the cost of snow removal.  The other half of the surplus would go to a project fund and we could use that over time to build up and use it for special projects, either short term or long term.  In that way we dont have to raise taxes every year and keep our rates low.

 

Roger Myers:

The fact is each year taxes do increase in Chilliwack, but only marginally and mainly to cover inflationary costs. The City of Chilliwack has proven this time and time again. The pay as you go philosophy the city uses should be the pride of this community. Taxes remain one of the lowest in the Lower Mainland and yet we have the best amenities and services at our disposal. Wherever possible, these amenities have been created through Public Private Partnerships, keeping the city’s portion of the cost low and bearing the full brunt of the costs. If elected I would be in favour of continued low taxes, and embrace the pay as you go philosophy. In my opinion, if we feel the need to develop than Development Cost Charges should be increased to offset infrastructure costs. The bottom line, I an not in favor tax increases, unless it is to offset operating costs.

 

Gord Kornelsen:

I believe the city needs to display an attitude of transparency. We have at our disposal today more avenues of communication than any other time in history. We need to utilize these mediums of communication to inform and reinforce the plans and ideas for our city. Frequent dialogue through public forums and council sessions may a simple way to keep people from becoming suspect of back room deals and discussion. We need the confidence in our elected leaders to the best job with our tax dollars. A policy of open dialogue and honesty is what I hope to bring to the Council.

 

Richard Harrington:

To “pride oneself on having a relatively low residential tax rate” while still increasing taxes by 3.95% – as was done in 2010, seems a bit contradictory. I fully realize that some people want governments to provide all services, while also keeping taxes low; but, is this not our job? I feel that, as a new council, we should work hard to keep the 2012 tax rate at a zero increase. The trend across Canada is that business taxes are usually higher than residential taxes. For a comparable property value, this differential is called the “business tax multiplier.” For some people in this community, to brag that Chilliwack has the lowest business tax multiplier is not something to be proud of. Others of course say that this encourages new business to come to our city. There has been some disagreement in the past between our mayor and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business as to exactly what this multiplier for Chilliwack is. The CFIB said that, for Chilliwack, this multiplier is 2.6, while our mayor has said that it is actually 2.15. The CFIB has been quoted as saying that Chilliwack’s rate is the best of a “very bad bunch.”

What concerns me is that this rate in BC is higher than in other provinces across Canada. Some business people question why they must pay more than twice that paid by the residential user. The result of this discussion is that we, as a council, must ensure that critical services are provided, while also keeping tax rates down. This is a balancing act that may turn out to be the number one challenge of 2012. We need to carefully examine every financial line of the city, while keeping these objectives in mind. What this comes down to for each councillor is priority. Just what are our priorities? For me personally, besides the “bread and butter” issues of roads, sewers, water, busing etc, there are the issues of new development, agricultural preservation, downtown social housing, a serious look at light rail transit and recreation. Everyone knows, that in these tough financial times, people do not need further tax increases. I personally have been through this process in the past on six separate occasions over a six year period and I feel that I have made a positive contribution to these processes.  I look forward to working with my fellow councillors to do this again for Chilliwack.

 

Sue Attrill:

Keeping our tax rate low is crutical during these tough economic times. That means making the tough decisions.  When it comes to budget time we look through every item line by line to ensure that we are making the best possible decisions that we can for the taxpayers. I will not make promises we cant afford.  I will always support a zero debt position so that every penny of taxpayer dollars can go into providing services and not just servicing debt.  I am committed to ensuring that the City of Chilliwack continues to be fiscally resposible.

 

Stewart McLean:

As a city councillor I would continue as I have to work at maintaining relatively low residential taxes and one of the lowest business tax multipliers. As a city councillor, council has to date through hard work and being fiscally responsible in decision making been able to maintain this standard and continue to deliver critical services. I would continue to work just as hard at this task as I have for the past three years I have been serving the residents of Chilliwack.

 

Garth Glassel:

What critical services have we come to expect? Our roads are the worst in the whole province, we can’t get decent fire or police protection, the downtown area is full of crime and boarded up buildings and we have the mayor and council building a new library? This council needs a reality check, we must concentrate on police and fire services, sewer, water and roads, not new logos and Libraries.

We could easily keep the municipal property and business tax rate even lower if it weren’t for this wasteful spending. We are in a recession, you just can’t spend your way out of it. So what can I offer to the City after I get elected?

First, I will ask the department heads to go back to their budgets for 2012 and to come back to get two lists before February, 2012. This list of cuts would be to save the taxpayer 7% and a list to save 10%. These cuts are not to affect jobs or services. We need to streamline the way we are doing business to save money.

Second, I will ask that the council and staff to take a “chilliwack business first approach”. This would mean that instead of a Surrey company building our sidewalks, we would try to find a Chilliwack company to do it. Instead of a Langley company building our Library, a Chilliwack company would build it. We need to help our own business people first.

Third, I will ask that the staff explore the cost of setting up our own police force. The money we are sending to Ottawa is not giving us value for our dollars. We need a local force that is accountable to the citizens of Chilliwack, not Ottawa.

The waste of taxpayers’ money is the prime concern. I will bring some “Good Old Common Sense” to council.

 

Mitchell Nosko:

I am well aware of Chilliwack’s low residential tax rate as well as having one of the lowest business tax multipliers.  Having worked on the Aviation and Aerospace Council in partnership with CEPCO over the past two years I have seen how important these two factors are in promoting Chilliwack as a great place to live and work. The tax rates work hand in hand as part of our business promotion strategy. Not only can we promote a cost savings to business owners should they decide to move their businesses from more expensive municipalities, in addition  they can sell the idea of moving to Chilliwack to their employees because of the lower ongoing housing costs. That is why maintaining our competitive tax advantage is critical to Chilliwack’s business attraction strategy.  This is also why city council needs to do everything it can to maintain current tax levels. My philosophy is that before we spend money on increasing services the city need to first increase revenues by increasing the taxpayer base. City councils focus should be on increasing the commercial tax base since businesses proportionally pay more taxes than residences. Increasing the number of businesses will have the added benefit of improving the local economy by both spending money locally and by providing desperately needed jobs.

 

 

Brenda Currie:

I would continue to promote Chilliwack as a place to bring business to provide jobs. Chilliwack has built an excellent reputation as a pro-business community with a population filled with a talented work force, and affordable housing prices. I believe the best way to keep taxes low and providing crucial services to residents is to attract more people and spread the cost of delivering these services.

 

Ron Browne:

Historically Chilliwack council has an excellent record of cost control and prudent financial management. With few exceptions the current economy has brought even greater competitiveness to the marketplace. We need to create more jobs in Chilliwack. They generate more tax revenue from both the businesses and the residents. The short to midterm forecast for maintaining and improving the standard of services to Chilliwack residents remains positive. As your councillor with a Master of Business Administration and as a Certified General Accountant with a record of excellent cost control and prudent management skills you can be assured I will work to keep taxes low, now and well into the future.

 

Chad Eros:

First, Chilliwack will continue to be a destination for businesses coming out from Vancouver, Surrey and even from out of province over the next few years. Development Cost Charges and Development Contribution revenue will pick up again, although it has dropped off since the height of the economic boom in 2008. As those revenues pick up, I would like to focus on safety, water and sewer development. Infrastructure development is needed in specific areas like at the Vedder bridge, Garrison crossing area, and according to people who have written on my blog, there are some very strange intersection/bike path combinations that need to be reconfigured for safety reasons. If priorities are managed properly in the City, there should be little reason to dip into general tax revenue for development charges, and if we focus on safety and improvement instead of expansion (we are past that push) my gut feeling from looking at the financial statements is that we may even be able to reduce taxes in this recession.

Second, In terms of basic operating expenses, there is little to support that inflation is driving these costs up according to inflation statistics that have come out. We have not returned to 2007 levels of labour costs, and the City should look for opportunities for contracts with third parties to be competitive. There are saving opportunities for the City in this regard right now. I encourage our staff to be critical of 2007 looking quotes for labour.

Thirdly, Some cities have been doing a supernatural job of getting the federal and provincial government to contribute to city initiatives. Surrey for example has scored a $1 billion commitment from the federal government and $500 million commitment from the provincial government to upgrade it’s city. Chilliwack has not been as successful in getting higher level government participation to say the least. Our $50 million project at Evans Road Eagle Landing garnered a whopping $2 million contribution from the feds and a $4 million from the province. As a part of Canada’s Economic Action plan, the federal government listed projects that they should have contributed to anyways as “extra” contributions for economic stimulus, like dyke reinforcement and UFV contributions. In other words, Chilliwack residents are sending tax dollars to Ottawa and Victoria and not getting it back. Nobody can be a greater advocate to their MPs and MLAs than local government. We need a strategy to get to the table and make our case to Ottawa and the Victoria to get our tax dollars back. Surrey has 400,000 residents and got $1.5 billion. Considering that Chilliwack has 80,000 people, should we not get $300 million for downtown and city upgrades!!! What magic is Surrey working? We should definitely consult with them.

There are creative ways of managing and raising funds for our city. We don’t need to go the property tax well over and over. Other cities do it. We can too.

 

Gerry Goosen:

In view of the slower economy Chilliwack is facing in today’s business and job environment, as a councillor I would propose that we identify areas of savings prior to developing the budget for our next fiscal year. I would also propose that we ask department managers to identify and propose cost cutting measures, outside of salaries and wages, that would result in savings of 5-7% in each of their departments.  This would allow us to retain the current tax formulas without having to cut too deeply into established programs.  It is with solid business sense, good financial planning and sound administration, that we are able to keep Chilliwack out of a deficit and maintain a balanced budget.

 

Jason Lum:

I believe in fiscal responsibility and fiscal accountability. I also believe it’s important to realize that there is only one kind of civic taxpayer and largely one source of civic revenue (property taxes). I believe it is imperative that municipalities are given the ability to diversify their revenue sources instead of relying on taxes tied to property values. I would argue that a change is required in the property taxation system to create fairness, and equity among the tax classes for all, whether you’re a young family starting out, a senior on a fixed income, or a small business owner like me. As a city councillor, I would focus on prioritizing core services (infrastructure maintenance, public safety, resource sustainability). I believe the current pay-as-you-go policy of the city is responsible policy, and I support it. It is also important to recognize that cities are becoming more and more complex as they take on more responsibilities downloaded from senior levels of government. I have the proven experience dealing with both the Province and the Federal government, and will continue to be a strong advocate for maintaining the great quality of life we enjoy here in Chilliwack by ensuring value for our tax dollars.

 

Ken Popove:

The city has done a great job keeping taxes down and I would continue working to do the same as long as it does not interfere with the critical services. I plan on maintaining a fiscally conservative approach if elected. The formulas are in place and I see no reason to vary from that at this time.

 

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