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New Westminster ponders two per cent property tax hike

Property taxes should rise by about two per cent in New Westminster in 2012 if a draft budget considered by New Westminster city council Monday is any indication.

An early draft presented to council in December proposed a 1.29 per cent bump, but council asked its finance department to consider additional funding requests to help ease the workload on overburdened departments and allow the city to carry out new high-priority initiatives. The requests would have added about $1.1 million and a 2.89 per cent increase, but additional revenue from new construction not accounted for last month should keep the rise to 1.98 per cent, said the report from finance director Gary Holowatiuk.

"It's in the relative ballpark in terms of the kind of things we need to do in the city. We need to keep taxes as low as possible. Being in the neighbourhood of two per cent is prudent," said Coun. Bill Harper before heading into Monday's working session on the budget. "It's pretty bare bones, compared to last year's. We're trying to keep our taxes as low as possible and yet still function as a modern city."

Coun. Jaimie McEvoy said there are some changes he'd still like to see happen, especially when it comes to affordable housing.

"We adopted a housing strategy three years ago, and we haven't had the resources to implement that strategy. I have questions about whether or not we can shift resources to do that. My instinct is we have the resources to shift around to do that," said McEvoy. "This is a happening city, and we've got a busy city hall and I just want to make sure the city is up to the task."

He would like to see the city build a new animal shelter and improve sidewalks so seniors aren't tripping on them and they're wheelchair accessible.

McEvoy suggested in the future the city should look at other sources of revenue instead of raising taxes. Possibilities included leasing out space in the new Westminster Pier Park and civic centre to restaurants, or for a coffee shop in the proposed new Massey Theatre.

However, he doesn't think it would be good for New Westminster to follow Vancouver's example which leased out space in existing parks like Kitsilano Beach and English Bay. With New Westminster being only seven square miles and a growing population "we don't want to lose park land that is already in use," said McEvoy.

Some of the additional funding requests made by council in December include:

• $222,000 for maintenance of new parks and trails at the pier park and in Queensborough;

• $150,000 for a plumbing inspector and plan checking assistant to handle the additional workload for all the new construction projects;

• $113,000 for an engineer and additional support staff for increased demand from land development;

• $129,000 for marketing of the new civic centre;

• $60,000 to upgrade the police custodial services staff to meet the city's living wage policy.

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