The fur was flying at Pitt Meadows’ City hall after another exchange between council and a tax opponent at a council meeting Tuesday night.
Tom Murray recently delivered a petition of 1,200 signatures from people who opposed a tax increase and wanted to know what a zero per cent tax increase would look like.
But his request has yet to be answered.
After months of pleading and petitioning, Murray said Tuesday he’s fed up.
“There’s no doubt that I’m not everyone’s favourite person, but I feel I must continue my saga in order to honour my fellow residents here in Pitt Meadows,” Murray said at the council meeting.
“I have two comments to make tonight,” Murray added. “One: we all wanted to see what a zero-per-cent tax increase would look like. We simply wanted to see if it was at all possible. This was not produced. It has been a big disappointment. Two: since zero per cent was not shown, I would like to propose that mayor, council, and senior staff not receive raises at all this year. Are you willing to accept this?”
According to the Statement of Financial Information (SOFI) report, the mayor’s salary grew from $47,160 to $63,220 from 2008 to 2010. In three years, it grew by $16,060.
Also, from 2009 to 2010, councillors’ salary grew from $19,802 to $24,761.
But Mayor Deb Walters sees things differently.
A volunteer citizen group was formed in 2008 and spent months reviewing the duties of council. They reviewed time spent on committees, training and education opportunities, conferences, and travel allowances, and also compared the City with other municipal councils in Metro Vancouver to come up with these figures.
“Pitt Meadows council wanted to involve citizens in the decision of council compensation to be transparent and fair, so that we would not be criticized for voting ourselves large increases,” said Walters.
“When the recommendation was made, council agreed to accept those recommendations, but postpone implementation until after the following election,” she added.
Walters said it was a fair process, and she stands by the recommendations made by the group of citizens.
“To simply throw out their work and recommendations now sends a very negative message,” she said, “and will make it difficult to enlist people to sit on future citizen consultation groups.”
But what she thinks is unfair is the attack on the salaries of City staff.
“It’s unfair that Mr. Murray is attacking staff, because it is a labour issue and [therefore is] discussed in camera,” she said.
“As mentioned to Mr. Murray last night, in my opinion, it was not the time or place to have that discussion, and that remains my answer and I will not be discussing it any further unless directed otherwise from council,” Walters stated.
The mayor is “satisfied” with how the business planning process went, and the decision to raise property taxes.
“It is difficult to give everyone what they want, so as a council, we try to find a balance.”
Walters said that council heard from members of the community through Murray’s petition, at a public council meetings, from emails, and at an open house.
“I made my decision based on this community’s needs moving forward,” she said. “This is definitely a tax-rate increase that we can defend,” she said.
Council was split on whether to shift the burden to business, in the end sticking to the program by encouraging business growth and ultimately local jobs.
“We want to make it easy for businesses to succeed in Pitt Meadows. By keeping the ratio of business to residential tax rates the same, we are showing that commitment,” said Walters.
To help get the tax rate down council also opted unanimously for bi-weekly garbage collection supported by on-going weekly recycling and green-cart service, council was able to find nearly $170,000 worth of savings by changing the schedule and discontinuing the drop-off free service.
“We know that there are going to be more issues requiring our fiscal attention like increased traffic and demand for services but we must strike a balance, largely through healthy reserves and a diversified tax base, between meeting those needs and planning and protecting the interests of the community well into the future,” she said.