Tom and Norma Murray are taking on the City of Pitt Meadows.
And they’re asking for help.
The retired couple and long-time Pitt Meadows residents are upset over the municipality’s plans for an annual four-per-cent property tax hike, on average, for each of the next five years.
“I cannot quite understand the thought process behind the idea of raising property taxes by four per cent per year for the next several years,” Tom wrote in a letter that he hand delivered to City hall Friday morning, July 6.
“In the past two years alone, if my memory serves me correctly, our taxes have risen by well over 10 per cent. If your idea is to force young families and retired people to have to sell their homes and find a place to live where they can afford, you will probably be right on track,” he wrote.
Tom is circulating a petition and has already collected a handful of names on it.
The petition reads, “We are referring to the proposed property tax increases of 4% per year for the next five years. Young families and retirees… in fact anyone who isn’t making ends meet, which is most of the residents of Pitt Meadows, can’t afford to support this.”
Tom, who was at the IGA on Harris Road on Saturday, gathering signatures, said, “So when you’re talking four per cent a year over five years, I figure that will probably be five or six [per cent] on average.”
First and foremost, Tom wants Pitt Meadows residents to know he’ll “be around,” looking for support.
He would also like to recruit five volunteers, preferably more, to help bring the petition to the people of Pitt Meadows.
“And anyone who wants to get some exercise and knock on doors to fight City hall, please contact Tom Murray at 604-465-9437,” he said.
Tom and Norma hope to collect a minimum of 500 signatures before presenting the petition to the City sometime in the next few weeks.
A former financial planner, mortgage broker, and School District 42 trustee, Tom doesn’t want to wait too long to deliver the petition to the City.
He fears that if he doesn’t take action now, “it will get lost in the ether.”
The Murrays have lived together in their home on 120B Avenue for the past 15 years and say they have seen property tax increases every year. Norma has lived in the home for the past 40 years.
“If you check back on Pitt Meadows taxes, you will find that since 2002, roughly, taxes have pretty much doubled,” Tom said. “People think they can’t do anything about what City hall does, but we have a lot of retired people in town, we have a lot of young people in town, we have a people working at two jobs who can’t make it with one job.”
“It’s like, ‘You can’t fight City hall,’ but you can,” Norma added. “You can try.”
The tax increase will likely measure out to be about 40 per cent over the next seven years, in Tom’s estimation.
Pitt Meadows Mayor Deb Walters told the TIMES via email that “it is unfortunate” that people focus on a percent number, noting that there are many factors that influence the bottom line for property taxes.
Property assessments can have a positive or negative effect regardless of the percentage, she said.
“It should also be noted that one per cent of taxes is a tax rate stabilizer,” Walters said. “That will be satisfied this year for that.”
She quoted Pitt Meadows director of finance and facilities Dean Rear, who said, “The City prepares an expenditure budget to deliver a set of services to the community and then has to generate the revenue necessary to pay for those services. While there is usually new revenue from growth, increases in general taxation are implemented to close the gap between projected revenue and the budgeted expenditures.”
For his part, Tom says he hasn’t seen a satisfactory return on his property tax investment over the past decade-and-a-half.
For example, the Murrays would like to see the City funnel its resources into making local roads safer.
They have unsuccessfully lobbied for speed bumps on their street for years, and say speeders rat race through their neighbourhood, which includes Davie Jones Elementary, to avoid street lights on some of the Pitt Meadows’ main roads.
“It’s a highway,” Norma said.
“Somebody’s going to get killed,” Tom added.
“We’re not seeing any of the benefits at all,”Tom added. “There are things that are vital, things that must be done to keep the City up, but maybe in this time when we have a lot of people at zero per cent raises, and we’re watching the property taxes go up… I’m fighting it.”
Walters said the petition would be noted by council, but encourages residents to participate during the budget process.
“Learn the facts,” she said. “This council has requested staff to look at ways to better engage the public. This not only will be extremely helpful to residents to provide them with a better understanding of where their taxes are going, but will provide us with the necessary feedback to make good decisions.”
Walters said, “It is very easy to sign your name to a paper. But please get the facts first before doing so. Take the time and contact the City’s finance department and ask your questions.”
She said that Pitt Meadows council is well aware of the global economy.
“We know that we need to maintain a certain service level, protect our assets now and into the future while being sustainable,” Walters said.