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City OKs 2% tax hike but nixes Harry Jerome levy

COUNCILLORS for the City of North Vancouver gave preliminary approval Monday to a two per cent tax rise in 2012, but voted down a staff recommendation for an additional one per cent levy to help pay for the redevelopment of Harry Jerome recreation ce

COUNCILLORS for the City of North Vancouver gave preliminary approval Monday to a two per cent tax rise in 2012, but voted down a staff recommendation for an additional one per cent levy to help pay for the redevelopment of Harry Jerome recreation centre.

Finance director Isabel Gordon told council, meeting as the city finance committee, that the municipality could expect a $754,000 increase in revenues this year, driven mostly by growth of the tax rolls and a $150,000 rise in development permit fees.

"We have quite a number of development prospects in the community," she said, "some of which are quite well advanced, so we feel quite confident that revenue will come to the city.

Nevertheless, slightly more than three-quarters of every dollar coming into the city's coffers is raised through property taxation, Gordon said.

"I have spoken to finance committee before that it's a bit risky to rely so heavily on one form of revenue. But that is the situation we are in. I guess the best thing that can be said is that it's not growing as a percentage of our budget, which in fact it is for many municipalities."

Under the proposed tax plan, the owner of an average city house assessed at $814,484 would see their total bill - including utility levies - rise by $113 to $2,868.40. The owner of an apartment or townhouse would see theirs grow by $34.85 to $1,486.30.

If approved, the rate increase would be the city's smallest in five years, as previous hikes have been in the three-to four-per-cent range.

The overall city budget for 2012 is expected to be $58.3 million.

On the expenditure side, finance staff reduced the money earmarked on an ongoing basis for its RCMP contract by $250,000, based on previous years' experience. For several years, said Gordon, a substantial portion of the budget money went unspent.

"We don't believe it's necessary to fund that from the base - in other words, from taxes," she said. "We are getting a large favourable variance every year. This has gone on for quite some time. So we are proposing that part of that contract be managed as a contingency. We are providing assurances to E Division that the contract is funded, but we will not be funding that from the base."

The two per cent rise in property taxes would be split evenly between funding ongoing operations and saving up for capital projects.

But a special one per cent levy for Harry Jerome, the largest capital project on the city's agenda, drew little support from council. The extra tax point would put away about $400,000 each year. The city already has $8 million set aside for the long-delayed project, which is estimated to cost somewhere in the $60 million range.

"Until we have defined what we are going to do with Harry Jerome," said Coun. Don Bell, " I would prefer that we keep our tax increase as low as we can to cover the realities we are dealing with. And after we make our decision, I don't think $400,000 will make a lot of difference."

"Defining it is absolutely necessary before you begin to address the question of how you're going to pay for it," agreed Coun. Pam Bookham. "I'm not prepared tonight to support an additional one per cent tax increase for a project that has not been clearly defined. I just can't justify it."

Mayor Darrell Mussatto was the sole vote in favour of the Harry Jerome levy, which would have tacked an extra $15 on a houseowner's bill and $10 onto a multi-family building unit.

"We know it's going to be extremely expensive to redo Harry Jerome, whether it's a renovation or a rebuild, it's going to be a big, big number and we have to pay for it," he said. "No one's going to come in and pay for it for us. We were very successful in doing the Gerry Brewer police building by establishing a fund and saving up."

Coun. Rod Clark backed the two per cent rise, but questioned Gordon on the dollars attached to two budget items he has long opposed. The sister city fund, used for twinning events with Chiba, Japan, is topped up to $20,000 each year, said Gordon, and the dinners provided to council and staff before Monday night meetings draws a $27,000 annual budget.

Council also debated whether to give the Lower Lonsdale Business Association $50,000 towards its Christmas and Party at the Pier events, as well as $60,000 to help establish a business improvement area.

Council approved the event money 5-1 with Bookham opposed, and then unanimously agreed to review how festivals are staged in the city, and whether all such activities should be brought together under the supervision of one agency, possibly The Arts Office.

The business improvement area funding will be decided at a later meeting.

"If we stop supporting this group," said Coun. Guy Heywood, "we lose all hope of a revenue source and local governance that would bring in $200,000 a year plus. I think it would be folly to stop now."

Council will vote on the final financial plan in early April, and decide on how to distribute taxes between business and residents in the middle of the month.

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