Property tax rise of about 2.5% proposed

Property tax in New Westminster could rise by almost 2.5 per cent if city staff get all of the additions on its wish list.

The draft 2014 budget presented to council Monday by Colleen Ponzini, the city’s financial services manager, outlined a base budget proposing a 1.28-per-cent increase if no new hires are approved by council. However, that would be increased to 2.47 per cent if they are.

In addition, the budget included contingencies in case the Merchant Square office complex currently being constructed by the city in conjunction with the Anvil Square civic centre isn’t sold in 2014. However, they would involve significant increases in bank charges, said Ponzini while also emphasizing the plan is to have it sold this year and the debt, created to pay for building the complex, paid off.

Included in the staff requests are various planning positions to help deal with all the work created by a surge of developments in the city, as well as positions to help the engineering department deal with transportation issues. There’s also a request by the fire department for the creation of a hazardous-materials response team. And the city clerk’s department wants to hire someone half time to deal with freedom of information requests because they are taking away from other duties for the person charged with taking care of them.

Coun. Chuck Puchmayr questioned the need for some of the transportation positions, especially those requests for making temporary positions permanent.

“I want to be careful we’re not hiring someone that is at the end of the work cycle,” said Puchmayr.

Fire chief Tim Armstrong told council all the department’s members have a certain amount of hazardous material training, but they’d like to have a team that can respond quickly to incidents. That would also give the department the ability to cap or plug leaks or suppress any kind of release to minimize the impact to the community. Currently, he said, the department has to take a defensive approach by cordoning off the area and waiting for a team from another jurisdiction.

The city’s proposed capital budget will be presented to council on Monday.

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