The tax rate increase on deck for Chilliwack in 2016 is slightly higher than last year, at 1.89 per cent.
But even with the small increase, Chilliwack will still be able to boast the lowest tax rates in the entire Lower Mainland.
“We’re very purposeful in our budget process,” said Mayor Sharon Gaetz. “This year we’ve kept service levels as is, with a small increase.”
The 2016 tax rate — up a bit from last year’s 1.49 per cent — is part of the Financial Plan Bylaw, scheduled for introduction at the Tuesday council meeting.
For most homeowners it will mean an extra $30 on their tax bill.
New this year is a “citizen budget engagement tool” which will be available this week online at chilliwack.com.
“Citizens will be able to log on to see the budget, and provide some feedback,” said Gaetz. “We’ll use that information, and priorities as we plan for growth.”
Once council approves the financial plan, a public information meeting on the budget will set for Feb. 16.
The 2016 tax increase of 1.89 per cent is designed to cover inflationary hikes in labour, contract costs and materials.
It will also direct new funds toward parks and trails, with an eye to addressing “trail maintenance and garbage removal,” according to the staff report. It also means more for recreation and cultural services, by way of additional public art and public events.
City-wide graffiti removal, community greening and streetscape improvements are on the way.
Plans are in place for a new curling rink, with $50,000 set aside for 2016 planning, and then another $4 million for construction in 2017, with the goal to open the new facility in 2018, with $2.5 million.
Public safety is always the biggest chunk of municipal funding, with policing services at 30 per cent. Two new members of the RCMP are proposed for 2016, with another two members per year between 2017 and 2025.
Chilliwack fire protection is about 10 per cent of the budget, and the 2016 plan will see one firefighter position added in 2016, and another in 2017, and then two more firefighters per year between 2018 and 2021.
Bylaw enforcement is set for a boost of one full-time officer and two part-time seasonal enforcement officers in 2016 for weekend and after hours enforcement.
“We identified a need for bylaw enforcement support during the summer and evenings, so we’ll be starting that this year,” said Gaetz.
One of the bigger budget items is the $12.5 million Vedder Bridge replacement, which is a cost-sharing infrastructure project for which Chilliwack pays one-third out of its development cost charges fund. City officials are also reinvesting in infrastructure with planned improvements on Promontory Road ($1.7m), Prest Road ($3.1m), and Lickman Road ($6.5m).
A total of $573,000 is set to cover costs for new training centre for the Chilliwack Fire Department, and another $5.1 million to renovate the new public works operations yard on Luckakuck Way, the site of the Candyland project that never came to fruition.
“It may seem like it’s taking a long time to prepare for the new works yard, but it’s actually two projects in one. Once the Operations department takes over the new yard on Luckakuck, the RCMP will move into the existing one.”
An organics transfer station is proposed to cost $3.7 million, while work on the Sardis Rail Trail will cost $2.58 million over several years.
They’ll be studying water flows on the Hope Slough to see if there’s any room for improvement, and adding a skate park in Rosedale.
The Housing First initiative will see $700,000 put aside for future projects to help house the homeless.
“We want to be ready to assist other levels of government, even though homelessness is not a municipal responsibility,” Gaetz said.
Last year’s tiny tax hike was the lowest Chilliwack had seen in almost 20 years. It was only lower in 1996, when the tax rate increase was at zero.
Chilliwack has the lowest tax rate of all 19 Lower Mainland municipalities and that includes utilities, and fees for regional district and school district. They also still boast the lowest business multiplier.
The proposed 2016 tax rate of 1.89, compares with last year’s rate increase of 1.49, which was down from the previous rate of 2.44 in 2014 or 3.44 per cent in 2013.