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Hefty tax increase gets nearly full approval

Laura Hendricklhendrick@squamishchief.comAll but one councillor stood firmly behind a sizable property tax increase on Tuesday (May 6) when it was given first three readings.

Laura Hendricklhendrick@squamishchief.comAll but one councillor stood firmly behind a sizable property tax increase on Tuesday (May 6) when it was given first three readings.Councillors were faced with an especially tight budget as residential growth continues to occur without major industries such as Woodfibre to help with infrastructure costs.Property tax is up 11.6 per cent this year for both the average residence, with business taxes up 12.3 per cent. When the bill arrives in the mail, the total increase will be slightly lower because of changes made to school and regional district taxes. The average homeowner will pay about $220 more than they did in 2007, while the average business in town will pay about $150 more than the previous year.The mill rate for residential has actually declined from 3.5 mills (dollars per $1,000 of assessed value) to 3.4, but with rising home values, the reduction is unlikely to result in savings for most homeowners.While the increase originally looked as though it would be 3 per cent for residential, it climbed over 10 per cent after council opted to pay for $1 million in paving from revenue. The decision saved the municipality from falling 30 per cent deeper into debt, but delivers a direct blow to taxpayers this year. Municipal debt will now rise by more than 20 per cent, surpassing $25 million if all projects go though.Coun. Greg Gardner said using debt to pay for repaving projects was an "unpalatable and unsustainable practice."He said he was very proud of council for delivering a tax increase rather than an even larger level of debt."I think that's the right decision," he said.Coun. Corinne Lonsdale said it was significant for her to support such an increase but noted it would help future generations."I believe we need to as best we can pay as we go and not obligate our children and grandchildren to pay down debt we made today," she said, adding that $1 million borrowed takes $1.6 million to repay."Sooner of later you've got to bite the bullet."Mayor Ian Sutherland said the decision was made more difficult with an election on the horizon."I think it was probably a courageous one considering in November there's going to be a local election," he said.He encouraged all council members to support the budget, noting that everyone had some wins and losses as they fought for their priorities during the process."I think it would be a great message to the community if we could put individual losses behind us and all get behind the budget," he said. "I really sincerely hope that all seven of us can support this budget."But Coun. Raj Kahlon would not be persuaded. He railed against council for supporting residential projects that inevitably cost taxpayers."Employment land. Employment opportunity. We never focus on that. That's why we're going in debt," he said.He also criticized council's willingness to fund studies during financially tight times."We spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on strategies that sit on the shelf but we don't have the money to act on that," he said. "I don't think it's good planning."All of council voted in favour of giving the tax rate bylaw first three readings but Kahlon. It is slated for final adoption Tuesday (May 13).

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