COUN. Michael Lewis led a call Monday for West Vancouver municipal staff to axe the 1.74 per cent property tax increase proposed in the district's 2012 draft budget.
Staff needs to separate "the must-haves from the nice-to-haves," to find enough money to allow for a zero per cent property tax increase, according to Lewis.
"It feels a little difficult after we've gone through an incredibly rigorous process," said Nina Leemhuis, the district's chief financial officer.
Leemhuis, who presented the budget to council last month, described the 1.74 per cent tax increase as "reasonable and measured and ensures the district can continue to provide services and programs in a fiscally responsible manner."
Lewis's motion echoed the sentiments of Dennis Perry, the lone West Vancouver resident who spoke to council about the proposed budget.
"We can balance this budget without increasing our property taxes," he said.
The 1.74 per cent tax increase sounds benign but masks the district's unsustainable spending practices, according to Perry.
"I will not support this motion," said Coun. Nora Gambioli.
After four months of work by district staff, Gambioli said it was up to council to make the tough decisions, not to send it back to staff.
"I think zero is a really arbitrary number," she said. "I've done some of the detail work on the little details that we're talking about."
Prior to the 2011 municipal election, district staff was instructed to prepare a budget with a 2.1 per cent property tax increase.
"As a new councillor, I'm elected with a new mandate," said Coun. Craig Cameron. "The question is: Do we go to the community and ask for more money than we did last year?"
Cameron said he felt he should apologize to staff for supporting Lewis's motion, but couldn't support any tax increases without being certain it was necessary.
"I am inclined to support this motion," said Coun. Mary-Ann Booth, noting that more than 80 per cent of budget expenses are salaries and benefits.
"I concur with Coun. Cameron on a number of points," she said.
"If we wanted staff to do a zero, we should've asked for it then," argued Coun. Trish Panz, referring to the instructions given to staff last July. "I'm not prepared to keep deferring," Panz said, adding she would not support the motion.
The motion received support from Coun. Bill Soprovich, although he said a zero per cent property tax increase might not be possible.
"That's a great healthy exercise," he said of having staff go over the numbers in the budget again.
"We cannot justify going to the public to raise taxes," said Mayor Michael Smith.
"I don't see how you can knock on somebody's door . . . and ask for $24,000 to redo the (fire hall) kitchen," he said.
Smith also stressed that the motion was not binding.
"It doesn't tie us to a zero per cent tax increase, it just challenges staff," he said.
The motion passed with Panz and Gambioli opposed.
The revised budget is scheduled to return to council on Feb. 20.