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West Vancouver council pushes back on tax increases

Council votes for zero increase for second consecutive year

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While the Resort Municipality of Whistler is looking at its fourth consecutive property tax hike over and above the rate of inflation - four per cent this year, on top of 20 per cent in increases over the previous three years - the council for the District of West Vancouver is digging in its heels for the second straight year.

According to Councillor Bill Soprovich, a 15-year veteran of council, the district council successfully held the increase to zero per cent in 2010 and came to the council meeting on Jan. 10 hoping to do the same for 2011. After some back and forth they compromised on a modest 1.1 per cent increase for this year, then passed a motion to ensure that the rest of the estimated shortfall should be found in the budget without taking it from infrastructure or operating costs.

While that small increase was a compromise Soprovich was reluctant to make, it's still well below the average inflation rate of 1.71 per cent for Canada last year.

"We're not growing (in population), our assessments are up... so why should our property taxes go up? That's the question we're asking," he said.

Like Whistler, the District of West Vancouver is facing an across-the-board four per cent increase in wages this year, matching an agreement reached with unions representing fire fighters, police and other public workers. And, like Whistler, the majority of the proposed tax increase for 2011 - 2.35 per cent for West Vancouver versus four per cent for Whistler - will go towards wages.

West Vancouver is also one of the six communities that Whistler looks at when setting and increasing wages, while West Vancouver bases its wages on data collected at Metro Vancouver - a conglomeration of 24 municipalities and districts that manage a range of shared core services from drinking water, to sewage, to parks.

For Soprovich, the issue is simple:

"We wanted to go with no increase this year, the reason being is that most of the increase they're asking for - about 90 per cent of it - was to cover the pay increase," he said. "There's no question we have good staff, but what we saw is a generous increase in the number of people receiving higher and higher wages. In 2003 we had 14 (staff members) making over $100,000 and six years later there were 65.

"It's a system that's perpetuated by increased percentages every year and the way it's gone on, the way (wage increases) are entrenched in the system, if we don't fix it, it's going to break."

Of the 2.35 per cent recommended property tax increase for West Vancouver, roughly 80 per cent was earmarked for wage increases. That 80 per cent figure is similar for Whistler.

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