This year’s budget discussion in Maple Ridge will include the prospect of approving up to $110 million in borrowing for parks and recreation infrastructure.
Mayor Nicole Read declined to name specific projects, but called the $110 million a “high-level funding envelope.”
In general, she said the community has “an at-capacity aquatic centre, not enough ice, and not enough fields.”
At the same time, Maple Ridge is “bursting at the seams in terms of participation in sports.”
She added: “I don’t think we have the amenities in this community to support a city of this size.”
With the federal government offering to help pay for new infrastructure for cities, councillors have expressed a desire to have shovel-ready projects, with the municipality’s share of funding in place.
“All we’re hearing is the federal government is ready to spend,” said Read.
Council will engage in what Read said should be should be an “exciting conversation,” but it will not result in an immediate $110 million debt for the city.
“It’s not like we’re going to the bank and get $110 million, and then spend it,” she said.
Read said more information will be made available through a communications plan that is being developed.
The borrowing conversation comes at a time when Maple Ridge has told Pitt Meadows it is pulling out of the joint parks and leisure services agreement, but Read said that is not a factor.
Recreation user groups, such as Ridge Meadows Minor Hockey, should still be able to access fields and ice surfaces in Pitt Meadows, she said.
Maple Ridge residential property owners are facing a proposed 3.33 per cent tax hike this year, but that does not include the parks and rec funding.
On Thursday, from 6-8 p.m., there will be a budget session in council chambers.
“I think it’s really important – we need to hear from people what they think of the budget,” said Read.
Communications manager Fred Armstrong said a common question is why city costs rise faster than inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index. He explained the CPI is based on a basket of goods and services typically purchased by consumers, but the city is not purchasing the same basket.
“In the basket of goods the city buys, the single biggest thing is policing,” said Armstrong.
Those are the kinds of answers to be had on Thursday night, he said, and people can ask via Twitter, the city’s Facebook page, or live at the council chambers, as the meeting is live streamed.
The proposed 3.33 per cent tax hike is slightly lower than in recent years. Taxes rose 3.49 per cent in 2015, 3.46 per cent in 2014 and 3.91 per cent in 2013.
Looking at the five-year budget, Read said Maple Ridge has done a good job of residential development, and growing the city, but there are not enough amenities for residents, nor is there a good commercial or industrial tax base.
“I feel like we’ve not struck a proper balance between our development community and our residents,” said Read.
“We’re tight, and this community is over-reliant on residential property taxes.”
For an average Maple Ridge home, based on a house, apartment or townhouse with a $400,000 assessed value, the tax in crease would mean a total bill of $2,768 for general services and utilities (sewer, water and recycling).
Compared with 16 Lower Mainland communities, Maple Ridge had the fourth lowest taxes on an average single family dwelling in 2015, at $3,055 based on the average $474,000 single family residence. The highest was West Vancouver at $5,487 and the lowest Pitt Meadows at $2,853 in 2015.
The city is budgeting for $4 million in new revenues next year, primarily from growth in the property tax base and property tax increases.
Of that, approximately $2.4 million will cover labour increases.
The city’s major areas of increased expenditure are policing contracts, at $835,000, fire department, at $505,000, and employee wage and benefit increases, at $1.06 million.