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Chilliwack city council approves 2014 financial plan

Full-year operation of the new Sardis Library is one reason the city needed to increase property taxes for 2014. The library opened part way through 2013. - Paul J. Henderson
Full-year operation of the new Sardis Library is one reason the city needed to increase property taxes for 2014. The library opened part way through 2013.
— image credit: Paul J. Henderson

City council passed its 2014 financial plan bylaw with little fanfare and little public input after Tuesday’s public hearing in council chambers.

The plan will see homeowners hit with a 2.44 per cent tax increase in addition to a similar increase to water and sewer rates.

As has become a bit of a tradition, city staff point out Chilliwack’s property tax rate is second lowest in the Lower Mainland, far below the average, and even farther below when garbage, water and sewer are taken into account.

As has also become an annual tradition, few residents show up save for local resident Gary Raddysh, who annually pans government taxation at every level and requests a zero per cent increase, and Bryden Nelmes, who generally approves of what city hall does suggesting specific areas of improvement.

Mayor Sharon Gaetz thanked Nelmes for his annual tradition of turning out to comment on the city’s finanical plan, while Nelmes called it a shame that people discuss city finances in letters to the editor and on social media, but few show up in council chambers.

“That really saddens me,” he said.

Raddysh pointed to a recent Times article, that listed annual tax increases since 2004, numbers that showed the 2.44 per cent, or $38 on a representative home, is the lowest increase in more than a decade. Raddysh pointed out, however, that if you multiply those rates together, residential property owners have seen a 45 per cent tax increase in 11 years.

“I’ve never seen a zero per cent tax increase in 16 years,” he said.

Director of finances Glen Savard said in his presentation to council that Chilliwack’s tax rate is second lowest in the Lower Mainland behind Surrey, and 32 per cent or $494 lower than the average. When sewer, water and garbage is included, a typical Chilliwack homeowner pays 43 per cent less or $1,389 less than the average, based on statistics provided by the provincial government.

Reasons for the required increase include ever-rising RCMP costs, the addition of two new Mounties and one firefighter, transit expansion, an expanded road rehabilitation program, among other things.

In speaking in favour of the financial plan bylaw, Gaetz made reference, if indirectly, to a letter to the editor by former Chilliwack mayor and MLA John Les that appeared in the March 13 Times. In it, Les argued that Gaetz’s claim the city’s taxes were the lowest was untrue because the fee for garbage collection is separate from property taxes unlike in some communities where it’s included.

“[I]t is important to compare apples to apples,” Les wrote.

The city does, however, include those utilities when making the comparison that Chilliwack’s homeowners pay the lowest municipal rates in the Lower Mainland.

Gaetz said that she hears “people who don’t understand” claiming the rate comparisons are not accurate.

“That is simply untrue,” she said. “That has already been factored in.”

Council gave financial adoption to the 2014 financial plan bylaw unanimously Tuesday, with Couns. Sue Attrill and Ken Huttema absent. Gaetz, Couns. Jason Lum, Chuck Stam, Stewart McLean and Ken Popove voted for the bylaw.

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