Fiscal conservatism and council collaboration were the buzz words as Coquitlam introduced its lowest average tax increase in close to a decade.
The first three readings of the city's 2013 budget passed Monday, with the average property tax increased pegged at 2.95 per cent.
Due to the city's ongoing efforts to adjust its commercial tax rates, a one-per-cent tax shift was applied to the final numbers, resulting in a 3.34per-cent increase for residential properties and a 2.34-per-cent increase for businesses.
When put into perspective, the average residential home assessed at $565,000 will pay about $2,911 in property taxes and levies - $95 more than the 2012 numbers.
Of that $95 increase, $64 comes from taxes, while the remaining $31 comes from utility charges for water, sewer and solid waste tipping fees.
"As a city, we're actually in a great position this year, more than ever before," said Mayor Richard Stewart.
"We have a low budget increase. We have fiscal planning that accounts for long-term community needs. We have reserves that will permit new amenities in the future."
Contractual inflation for city and RCMP staff figured into the increase, while public safety measures accounted for 30 per cent - or $1.5 million - of the new spending.
Some of the principal cost drivers include: funding to build up adequate staffing levels for fire protection services on Burke Mountain, increased money for infrastructure maintenance and replacement, funds to begin a city archive program, more resources to support the city's economic development program, and a funding boost for community groups that provide arts and cultural services in the city.
"I'm proud of every one of them and I'm [in agreement] on every one of them," Coun. Neal Nicholson said of the city's new spending priorities.
"The challenge is the things that we didn't support, we couldn't support. You have to decide which is most important. Fire protection on Burke Mountain, for me, was first and has been for a couple of years."
The utility increases, which are driven predominantly by Metro Vancouver, include: a four-per-cent water rate increase ($16); a two-per-cent jump in sewerage and drainage fees ($8) and a two-per-cent solid waste fee increase ($7).
Prior to Monday's vote, Coquitlam was said to be the largest municipality in the province without an archive, a gap that Coun. Craig Hodge in particular has looked to address.
"[The budget] offers some new spending for some of the new growth, it increases our protective services and I support the shift to bring those business taxes down," he said.
The lone councillor to oppose the budget, Lou Sekora, has a history of voting against budget bylaws.
He said the city is not allocating surplus funds properly, and also suggested he did not receive enough information from city staff around varying taxation levels across the city to make an informed decision.
"Be honest - don't play these silly kinds of games," he said.
"There's a mindset that this budget is great and that it's the best budget. I know for a fact for the next 10, 20 years you will not bring the budget down below three or four or five per cent."
Both Stewart and Coun. Terry O'Neill were quick to counter Sekora's points, with O'Neill suggesting, "I don't think we have any hidden books at all. I think everything is very clear."
"These are great staff - they are not hiding things," Stewart added.
"This is not a budget with fictitious numbers."
As part of Monday's talks, five-year spending projections were also offered in the areas of transportation and parks and recreation.
Some of the highlights of the $90 million 2013-17 transportation plan include:
. $34 million for road enhancement
. $30 million for road rehabilitation
. $14 million for Evergreen Line streetscape projects
. $6 million for traffic safety programs
. $6 million towards the King Edward Overpass
About $58 million in parks and recreation initiatives were also highlighted over the next five years, including:
. $18 million towards parkland acquisition
. $13 million for park development
. $9 million for the Burke Mountain Fire Hall
. $8 million towards Place Maillardville expansions
. $5 million towards energy management programs
. $5 million towards sports fields
"In Canada, we as the local government get eight cents of your tax dollar - 92 per cent of that goes to federal and provincial governments . and with that eight cents, we're responsible for 60 per cent of the infrastructure," noted Coun. Brent Asmundson.
"I believe it is harder to vote in favour of a budget than against it."
Fourth and final reading of the tax bylaw is expected in the new year.