Citing ‘taxpayer fatigue,’ Metro Vancouver board re-examines regional budget

Members of Metro Vancouver’s board of directors have concerns about the regional district’s spending on major projects and how the costs will be passed on to taxpayers.

A special meeting was held Friday so that both new and experienced board members could review the budget, which was passed in late October, just after the municipal election, but before the new board met for the first time.

Pitt Meadows Mayor Bill Dingwall called the numbers “a bit alarming.”

“We need to really manage the incremental costs and the growth because there is taxpayer fatigue, especially around Metro Vancouver, with just even the cost of living here,” Dingwall said.

Metro Vancouver residents will see a 5.5-per-cent increase in the taxes and fees they pay to the regional district for the services it provides, including drinking water, sewage treatment and solid waste disposal.

That’s a $28 bump for the average household, which is based on an assessed home value of $1.23 million. Infrastructure expansion and upgrade projects are responsible for the increase.

The average cost for all Metro Vancouver services in 2019 is $534 per household, but that can vary based on assessed property value, location of the property and service use.

Langley Township Coun. Kim Richter: ‘I’m not understanding how a 42-per-cent household increase over five years is sustainable.’

Langley Township Coun. Kim Richter: ‘I’m not understanding how a 42-per-cent household increase over five years is sustainable.’

Over the next five years, the cost of Metro Vancouver services is expected to go up by nearly $200 — $28 in 2019, $40 in 2020, $50 in 2021, $55 in 2022 and $43 in 2023. The average annual increase is $43, or 7.4 per cent.

“I’m not understanding how a 42-per-cent household increase over five years is sustainable,” said Langley Township Coun. Kim Richter.

Board members also had concerns about the necessity for some of the major capital projects that will contribute to budget increases over the coming years.

“How necessary are they? How quickly do they have to be done and can the investment or the building of those infrastructures be reconsidered and stretched out so that the expense is not as high every year and therefore the tax burden can be alleviated?” asked Burnaby Coun. Pietro Calendino.

Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West said the consequences for taxpayers are considerable.

“I don’t question the rationale that staff are providing for some of these things, but there are other things this board needs to consider,” said West.

Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart said the previous board had similar frustrations about the enormous costs associated with massive infrastructure projects such as the new North Shore Wastewater Treatment Plant.

“I’m a fiscal conservative, and I hate the amount of money we’re spending here,” Stewart said. “I’ve asked these questions and a whole bunch of this stuff is absolutely imperative. We have to get on with it.”

To make sure that everyone on the board is comfortable with Metro’s decisions, Stewart suggested coming up with a model that would allow elected officials from across the region to meet and examine the issues, such as a council of councils.

At the next board meeting, the board will consider a notice of motion from Burnaby Mayor Mike Hurley, which asks that the recently approved 2019 budget for all of Metro Vancouver operations and entities be considered interim until a complete review is conducted by the new board and approved changes are incorporated.

jensaltman@postmedia.com

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