Maple Ridge's manager of finance is confident a scaled-back budget will meet the District's financial needs without compromising services.
District staff was able to find savings within their budgets bringing the proposed tax increase down from more than five per cent to just 3.91 per cent.
When the financial department presented its first budget numbers in the spring with an increase of 5.13 per cent (not including water, sewer, and recycling fees), the direction from council was to find more savings, said Paul Gill, manager of corporate and financial services with the District of Maple Ridge.
There would be ways of cutting the budget more, Gill said, but they could end up with a "pay me now or pay me much more later" scenario.
District staff recommended against deferring infrastructure renewal and maintenance, using up savings to cushion a tax increase, using
"unstable revenue sources," for example, gaming grants, deferring capital projects, and amending financial plan assumptions.
"All you do is defer the problem instead of dealing with it," Gill said of using these methods to bring down municipal taxes short term.
In order to scale back the proposed increase, certain budget areas were cut back.
The parks and recreation increase was scaled down from a half a per cent to 0 .125 per cent.
The infrastructure budget line item was also scaled back from a one per cent increase to a half per cent increase.
And the general increase, which staff first recommended being raised by three per cent was scaled down to 2.25 per cent.
These decreases brought the proposed tax increase down from 5.13 per cent to 3.5 per cent.
Added to this is an increase in regional services, water, recycling, and sewer, which will bring taxes up to 3.91 per cent.
Gill said the staff has done everything in scaling back proposed increases to not compromise services.
Maple Ridge is "lucky" because it is a relatively new community, Gill said, with most infrastructure having been built in the past few decades.
But the District has an estimated $1.3 billion in assets, and $40 million should be spent a year on replacement, not the $7 million currently being spent per year on infrastructure replacement.
A few years ago, District staff recommended that one per cent per year go towards infrastructure replacement to reduce this "infrastructure deficit," but next year, if this budget is approved by council, only half a per cent will go to infrastructure replacement.
The budget is a "conservative" estimate of revenues and expenses, Gill said, pointing out that municipal governments can't run a deficit.
Of all three levels that tax citizens - federal, provincial, and municipal - cities only receive eight cents per tax dollar.
However, whenever there is any breakdown in services at the provincial or federal level, the municipalities bear the brunt, Gill said, for example, if there isn't adequate affordable housing, then police - paid for by municipalities - deal with the people left on the street.
Another example Gill gave was when Maple Ridge had to put half a milllion dollars into improving the holding cells at the Ridge Meadows detachment because someone in Ottawa said they needed to be improved. (Pitt Meadows also had to chip in to improve the cells.)
Gill also pointed out that municipalities have to deal with the medicinal marijuana issue whereby licences are issued by the federal government. Municipalities have to deal with any police and fire department calls that result from problems with the licences.
Budget planning is a six to seven month process, Gill said.
The municipal budget needs to be transparent and accountable, he added.
"We are in the business of upholding the public's trust," Gill said, adding, however, that "transparency doesn't always create the best press for us."
Maple Ridge council was dealing with the proposed budget on Monday and held an online forum on it on Monday evening, after this newspaper's press deadline.
@ Copyright 2013