Emotions were running high and tempers flaring at Pitt Meadows’ council meeting Tuesday night.
Pitt resident and former school trustee Tom Murray presented a petition with more than 1,200 names calling for a zero-per-cent property tax increase for 2013.
“You say a zero tax increase is impossible and unrealistic. We beg to differ,” Murray said during his presentation.
“Upon doing some research on city budgets, I have found that Richmond, North Vancouver, Penticton, Mission – to name a few – have accomplished a zero-per-cent or near zero per cent budget,” he added.
Murray suggested pay raises for the mayor, council, and City staff are partly to blame for the tax increase.
“Raises seem to be automatic in City hall, but they aren’t for the rest of us. I compiled some percentages on the wage increases from 2008 to 2011 using the SOFI reports available at City hall, and quite frankly I am appalled,” he said.
Murray noted that between 2008 and 2011 council’s salary rose by 43.77 per cent and the mayor’s salary rose 37.69 per cent, and that the mayor received high stipends “for attending numerous Metro Vancouver meetings, instead of being present in City hall as a full-time mayor, as promised.”
Mayor Deb Walters was offended by the comments.
“I am a full-time mayor and I take offence to you implying that I am not. I am here endless hours and on weekends and in the evenings. And yes, I do go to Metro Vancouver. I represent this community... I’m representing the needs of this community.”
Walters said that when she visited the Murray home about a month before the petition was started, Murray pulled out a list of items that he called demands. They talked about them for a couple of hours.
“When did having you over for coffee and treats and asking you questions about our neighbourhood become demands?... They were not ever, once, demands. But if you say they are, I’m sorry, I totally disagree,” said Murray.
“Madame Mayor, I’m telling you, and I will probably get kicked out for it, but you’re lying,” Murray said. No action was taken against him for the comment.
Councillor Janis Elkerton explained that she takes it “very serious” when people put their names to a petition.
“People who put their name to what they have to say carries more weight than an anonymous survey... I am very concerned about the increase in taxes and will take this under consideration when we go into the budget,” Elkerton said.
In contrast, Councillor Tracey Miyashita questioned the petition’s credibility.
“All of us are concerned about taxes. We all live in this community. I am a single mom and being on council is my only job right now, and I tell ya, I sure haven’t seen a 43 per cent raise,” said Miyashita.
“Unlike Counc. Elkerton, I don’t believe in the validity of this petition because of the methods used to obtain the signatures,” Miyashita said, adding that she has received numerous calls from residents who have complained of feeling bullied or pressured into signing.
Walters explained that even if the municipality had a zero-per-cent increase, there still would be other increases on the property tax bills of Pitt Meadows residents, including a three-per-cent legislated increase for TransLink, and a 2.5 per cent increase for Metro Vancouver, which provides water, sewer, solid waste, and regional parks.
After Murray’s presentation and the heated exchange at the beginning of the evening, and further comments and slurs tossed out at the end of the night, council accepted the petition and vowed to take it under advisement