District of Kent residents will see a 2.54 per cent tax hike this year.
Increased expenses for policing, museum funding and operating costs bring the total expenses for the year to $9.3 million – creating the need for a $152,255 in taxes to balance the budget.
Kent mayor John Van Laerhoven said the .44 per cent increases for policing expenses is mandated by the RCMP.
“Whether they need more vehicles, more equipment for their cars, the RCMP lets us know. Based on the number of officers we pay for what the cost will be for the coming year.”
The .42 per cent hike allocated for the Agassiz-Harrison Museum amounts to approximately $25,000 and will keep the museum running.
“When you’re depending on grants for your basic survival, that’s challenging,” said Van Laerhoven. “They want to be able to have the bare bones operating money…and then the grants they get [to] do things beyond that basic stuff.”
The largest increase – 1.68 per cent – is for operating and capitol, another hike beyond the District’s control, according to the mayor.
“That’s just the reality of life these days and it has been for many, many years. The cost of everything goes up so the cost of everything goes up for the District as well.”
With inflation comes higher costs for equipment and maintenance, as well as raised staff salaries.
“Any project we do, supplies [and] materials are going to cost us more,” said Van Laerhoven. “Everything uses fuel and needs employees to do the work, and equipment needs maintenance and replacement.”
New street lighting and signs, shoulder widening and expanded fire services and dozens of other projects contribute to capital costs projected in the budget – although projects and their costs aren’t set in stone and depend largely on grant approvals.
“A lot of those projects that we have underway – a large portion of the funding for those comes from grants,” said the mayor. “We get a grant and then we have to put some money in from our regular funds.”
One such ‘planned grant’ is for the Hammersley Pump Station. With a $4.7 million-dollar price tag, it’s unlikely the project will go ahead without approved grant funding.
At the Feb. 26 council meeting the District broke down last year’s property taxes to explain where residents’ money went. The majority of 2017 property taxes – 47 per cent – covered general municipal costs – stuff like roads, parks, trails, recreation facilities, development services, capital projects and District council.
The next biggest slice of the property tax pie went to schools, which collected 37 per cent, followed by 11 per cent for local police, three per cent for hospitals and two per cent for “other.”
While the words “tax increase” generally aren’t too popular, the 2.54 per cent hike won’t have a big impact for the average homeowner. Homeowners with properties assessed at $200,000 can expect a $17.57 increase to what they paid last year, and even at the upper-end, homes assessed at $500,000 will pay an additional $43.92.
And despite the increase, Kent still has the lowest taxes in the Fraser Valley.
“We use our resources smartly,” Van Laerhoven said. “But we know we’re also there to provide services to our citizens. And the only way you can provide services is by having the resources to do so.”
Van Laerhoven added that he would have liked to see more people attend the District’s budget open houses on Feb. 19 and Feb. 21.
“It would have been nice to have larger number of the public show up for input and be able to answer their questions and show that we’re spending their money wisely.”
The 2018 budget is expected to be officially adopted at District of Kent’s council meeting March 12.