District of Mission deputy treasurer/collector Kerri Onken.

District of Mission deputy treasurer/collector Kerri Onken.

Zero municipal tax increase planned for Mission residents

District of Mission council upholds promise to freeze tax rate in proposed 2014 budget.

Mission residents will not see their municipal tax rates rise this year if the proposed district budget passes as is.

Deputy treasurer/collector Kerri Onken presented the proposed 2014 budget for the District of Mission at Monday night’s city council meeting.

Keeping the municipal tax the same means Mission would retain its competitiveness compared with neighbouring municipalities. The district has the fourth lowest property taxes of 13 Lower Mainland communities, at an annual average of $2,839 per resident.

The proposed budget does include a two per cent increase in municipal utility rates, which cover services such as water, sewer and waste.

Protective services use the largest chunk of the $64.6 million budget, at one-fifth. Other major budget expenditures are engineering and public works at 12 per cent, water utility at 10 per cent, and recreation at nine.

Property taxes account for 48 per cent of district revenue; utility fees represent 22 per cent, while user fees and other revenue make up the remainder.

“The district has limited revenue opportunities under the community charter, and as you can see taxation is the major source of revenue,” said Onken.

The district is expecting an additional $472,000 to come in from new constructions.

At the centre of the proposed budget is an aggressive debt retirement strategy. In 2014 alone, the district plans to pay back $4.5 million, which represents a 33 per cent reduction in debt.

Meanwhile, district staff are busy storing up reserves for future operating and capital costs. The district plans to increase its reserve from the current level of around $40,000, to over $60,000 within four years.

There will be no reductions to community grants or funding for infrastructure.

Resident and former city councillor Danny Plecas raised the concern that without significant increases in revenue, the district may end up with a shortage for major projects and to cover increases in operational costs.

“It’s nice to have a zero tax increase, but are we going to hit the wall two years down the road?,” said Plecas. “What’s new on the books that you can foresee to help us move along and get more tax revenue from other than the property owner to offset some of those increased costs we see down the road?”

Councillor Dave Hensman replied that the district is operating on a “save and spend” principle.

“I’m of the philosophy, and I hope many people are as well, that the more we save, and the more frugal we are, the better off we’re going to be, especially in these uncertain economic times. So are we going to hit the wall? No, we’re not. We’re sustainably moving our community forward in a way that is both frugal, and yet dealing with the issues at hand.”

The proposed budget is available online at www.mission.ca. Public comments on the budget are due by Nov. 20, 2013 to tax@mission.ca. Council will hold the final budget discussion on Dec. 2, and final adoption on Dec. 31.