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West Van approves 4.78% property tax hike

‘Aggressive strategies’ considered for shortfall

West Vancouver’s 4.78 per cent tax hike will help save for a rainy day – but at least one councillor thinks they should be readying for a flood.

Council approved the utilities-included tax hike Monday over the objections of Couns. Marcus Wong and Sharon Thompson.

The budget’s approval followed an April 1 debate in which Wong suggested he felt: “a bit like Noah building the ark.”

Emphasizing the need to find other revenue sources to support the district’s creaky infrastructure, Wong and Coun. Bill Soprovich unsuccessfully pushed for a deferral at the April 1 meeting.

A deferral might not yield any new information, advised West Vancouver’s director of financial services Isabel Gordon.

“I don’t think that there’s any more information we can supply to council,” she said, noting the pending tax rate deadline. “The entire process depends on moving this forward.”

The district owns approximately $761 million worth of assets, not including utilities.

“Over the next 20 years virtually all of these assets will require capital investment to maintain their performance,” stated a district staff report.

The repair and maintenance cost was initially pegged at $29 million.

The district is slated to put $14.5 million toward infrastructure maintenance through its asset levy.

“We’ve been building on this for four years,” said Mayor Mary-Ann Booth, echoing a call for a closer look at next year’s budget.

“I don’t actually have confidence that it’s adequate,” Thompson said of the budget, adding: “bolder moves” are necessary.

Thompson, Wong and Soprovich voted against the budget on April 1. That vote was immediately followed by a debate on the 2020 budget led by Coun. Craig Cameron.

Cameron put forward a motion calling for “more aggressive strategies” to address the capital infrastructure shortfall.

While she ultimately supported the motion, Coun. Nora Gambioli enumerated several potentially unpleasant ramifications of Cameron’s motion.

“This motion will require staff to do an almost impossible task,” she said, explaining that “aggressive strategies” could include: a casino, pay parking, multiple developments, further tax increases or shedding district assets, an option Gambioli called: “perhaps the most palatable.”

There may be other ways to oversee district assets, Wong responded, suggesting residents could pay for infrastructure in exchange for naming rights. “The Gambioli Centre for Nature Conservation” has a nice ring to it, he jested.

Cameron’s motion passed 5-2 with Thompson and Soprovich opposed.

The district’s total revenue from property taxes is estimated at $70 million, with residential taxes accounting for 93 per cent of the money.

West Vancouver spends about 66 per cent more per resident than the Metro Vancouver average, based on 2016 figures.

Discussing the relative uniqueness of West Vancouver, Gordon noted a lack of industry, West Vancouver’s municipal police department, and four fire halls serving the community’s challenging geography.

Residents get good value for their tax dollar, according to Cameron, who discussed the challenges of making budget cuts. Council is “constantly asked” for more bylaw officers and is unlikely to reduce the planning department, he said.

“If anything, we need to hire more planners so that we can do better consultation.”

Out of the $351-million budget, wages account for about $87 million with $1.2 million stemming from the employer health tax, Gordon said.

The owner of a $2.5-million West Vancouver home will likely shell out an extra $236 this year, bringing the median property tax bill up 4.78 per cent for a total of $5,182.

Gambioli noted that West Vancouver’s residential tax rate of $1.25 per $1,000 of assessed value is a fraction higher than Vancouver’s mill rate, which is the lowest in Metro Vancouver.

“If you’re a business owner you should be even happier because, in fact, we have the lowest business tax rate [$3.43 per $1,000 of assessed value] of any of those 16 municipalities,” she said.