CITY of North Vancouver residential and business taxpayers can expect a roughly three-per cent hike in property tax rates for 2013.
Council approved the increase in a 4-3 split vote at Monday's meeting after a debate over how council should pay for future amenities like cultural, community and recreation centres.
Members at the council table appeared to agree on a one-per cent increase for operating expenses and a one-per cent increase for infrastructure investment, but deep disagreement arose over whether council should collect and set aside another one-per cent levy to pay for future city amenities. The levy would add another $400,000 to city coffers over the year.
Supporters of the three-per cent increase pitched the plan as being financially prudent, given the many needs and wants council faces for amenities.
"This is one step toward renewal of our cultural and recreation facilities. We know the need is there. We know it's going to require a significant effort on our part to use all the levers available to us to make sure we have the capacity to renew and, in some cases, replace those resources," said Coun. Pam Bookham. "It behooves us to start to create that financial capacity. This is a small first step."
The city has been given direction from the taxpayers for what the priorities are, so it is incumbent on the city to clearly explain why it needs another $400,000 this year, said Coun. Linda Buchanan.
"We have a lot of projects on the books. We have a lot of things we need in the city and we have to put in really plain language that these things are going to cost significant amounts of money, so if we start to invest now, we won't have to create a much more significant levy down the road," she said.
In an age of belt-tightening, and increased downloading from the province and federal government, it would be "whistling through the cemetery" to assume senior levels of government will be willing or able to kick in huge contributions for amenities in the future, Coun. Craig Keating said.
"The best way to do it is to start setting aside those savings now so we have it the future rather than simply saying 'We want to be seen to be in favour of two per cent, not three per cent' and continue to kick the can down the road for another generation to deal with."
But for some on council, the difference between two and three per cent was too much to abide.
"We have lots of other sources for amenities. Certainly the development community could be taxed heavier or contribute more or contribute in a wiser cash-based program as opposed to juicing the taxpayers for another one per cent," said Coun. Rod Clark.
The $400,000 would be a drop in the bucket when it came to the bills for the new amenities council had in mind, including a rebuild of North Shore Neighbourhood House or the Harry Jerome Recreation Centre, which is projected to cost about $70 million, he added.
Clark challenged his colleagues at the table to find another one per cent for amenities within the existing budget. "My suggestion would be starting with the rather luscious council dinners, which happen every Monday night at taxpayers' expense," he said.
Coun. Guy Heywood joined in the dissent, albeit for a broader philosophical reasons. Heywood said he wasn't opposed to exacting higher rates from developers if it were to be used to "pay the city's bills, instead of other levels of government's bills," referring to the city taking on social projects not typically in municipal jurisdiction like creating childcare space and affordable housing.
Despite supporting an earlier motion for a three-per cent increase, Coun. Don Bell said he had come to see the extra tax as too much for city businesses owners, who already pay a higher rate than residents.
"Many of the business people I've spoken to are particularly hard-pressed, and I think this would be one more additional burden (when) at this time, we don't have plan for what we're doing."
Mayor Darrell Mussatto cast the tie-breaking vote in favour of the extra one per cent. "We've seen other levels of government spend money they don't have and that hasn't worked so well for them, has it?" he said.