Coquitlam councillors and staff were likely to feel the ripple effects of the property tax tsunami Thursday.
A group representing dozens of local businesses was expected to attend a budget meeting, after Tri-Cities NOW deadlines, to argue for both tax relief and equality for local businesses. That group is headed up by Mike Klassen, the director of provincial affairs for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB).
“Right now what we’re seeing is that businesses are paying a premium to be in the City of Coquitlam,” Klassen said. “They could go to a neighbouring municipality and run their business for cheaper. That’s not right.”
A 2011 study by the CFIB suggested that Coquitlam businesses pay 4.69 times more in property taxes than residential owners. Those numbers rank Coquitlam’s disparity as the highest among B.C.’s larger cities.
Countless business owners have contacted the Tri-Cities NOW in recent years over what they feel are exorbitant increases. Last year, one business owner saw her bill spike by 70 per cent in a one-year period. In 2011, a City Centre business owner saw nearly a 50-per-cent increase in his tax bill, a phenomenon he referred to as a “property tax tsunami.”
According to Klassen, the problem boils down to the city’s expenditures — specifically the amount paid to city staff.
“The thing that really boils our members’ blood is when they look at what city managers are making, which is in the cool six figures, and these same business owners are working for 14 hours a day, pretty much seven days a week,” he said. “They’re not pulling in anywhere near that money.”
Remuneration figures for 2012 point to two city staffers who earned more than $200,000 last year, while another 103 bureaucrats topped the $100,000 plateau.
Ironically enough, the city won the B.C. Small Business Roundtable’s Open for Business Award at the recently held Union of B.C. Municipalities conference.
The city has begun to ease the tax burden by instituting a yearly one-per-cent tax shift, but Klassen said tangible progress won’t be made until the city can sign a net zero deal with its workers.
Just last month, the city ratified a new contract with unionized workers that will see their salaries increase by close to seven per cent over four years.
“Right now, I think the only thing they can do is to make some commitments on the expenditure side — that’s about wages and benefits,” Klassen said. “If they keep on cutting deals that continue with the way that things have been, we’re not going to see the end of that.”
Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart did not return calls prior to Tri-Cities NOW deadline.
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