Public opinions vary on spending

Mission councillors heard various opinions on how to spend taxpayers’ money in 2011.

Some residents lined up at the microphone Monday night to encourage council to keep cutting until there is a zero per cent increase in property taxes, while others encouraged council to spend where necessary.

Mission’s director of finance Ken Bjorgaard presented the four tax scenarios of 5.4 per cent, 4.66 per cent, 3.88 per cent and 3.5 per cent at the beginning of the meeting. The highest proposed rate translates to $50.67 for the average assessed home valued at $393,000. The increase is $38.64 at 4.66 per cent, $25.91 at 3.88 per cent and $19.74 at 3.5 per cent.

Library taxes are increasing by $2.89 for each property and homeowners using municipal utilities will pay an extra $89.32, which breaks down into a 15 per cent increase in water user rates and a 10 per cent increase in sewer rates.

The full budget scenario includes hiring an extra police officer dedicated to domestic violence cases and a second assistant fire chief.

Some speakers questioned the need for more police officers because of a declining crime rate, but others were surprised a domestic violence coordinator didn’t already exist.

“It’s a necessary enhancement [to the police],” said Pam Willis, executive director of the Women’s Resource Society of the Fraser Valley (WRSFV). “It should’ve happened a long time ago.”

WRSFV is the primary responder for battered women in Mission and Abbotsford, Willis added.

“In communities where there is a domestic violence coordinator or unit, in makes a huge difference. Somebody takes the files, follows through with them and works with allied agencies.”

In Abbotsford, where there is a coordinator, there are also more convictions, she noted. The coordinator can also build trust and bridge the gap between women and police.

“Only 30 per cent of women will ever only have contact with police now,” she said. “Even if you don’t go for the full budget, this isn’t something you should drop.”

A number of people also spoke against implementing a $10 per player fee for minor sports athletes using district sports fields, a new revenue suggestion in order to bring taxes down to the lowest 3.5 per cent.

“I don’t think you should be taxing kids,” said Shannon Hick. “It’s too high already.”

Harpreet Grewal was concerned the fee would be short-term revenue for the district and might not be beneficial.

“We try hard to get kids active and this can be another barrier,” he said.

Willis added this move would violate the district’s commitment to a healthy community, and Shelley Clarkson said investing in kids will make a difference down the line when it comes to social and family relationships.

Larry Nundal and Sonja Barker suggested cutting non-core services from the district’s budget, such as Restorative Resolutions.

“You have to make a business decision to slash taxes,” said Barker, who also suggested reduced library operating hours. “Taxes are higher than the increase in the cost of living.”

Nundal criticized the district’s increase in spending in various departments over the last six years, such as corporate administration (36 per cent increase), engineering and public works (34 per cent) and payroll (41 per cent).

As a volunteer with Restorative Resolutions, Ali Kia believes the program is working and notes if jail time can be avoided for just one youth, it would save taxpayers thousands of dollars a year.

“Everyone expects you to work like a company, but you’re really a social enterprise,” said Kia. “Maybe you need to increase spending in economically difficult times in order to plan for the future.”

Ian Bernard Mackenzie studied the district’s budget in detail, and questioned council on each line.

“They’re small costs, but it all adds up,” he noted.

The next administration and finance meeting to discuss the budget takes place Feb. 9 at 4 p.m. in the conference room a municipal hall.