Ashcroft Council voted to proceed with its 22 per cent tax increase despite meeting with about 35 protesters before the Council meeting on May 9.
“It’s hard to take a 20 per cent increase when your pension only goes up five percent,” said one man.
“I love Ashcroft,” said Dolly Lowe, “but I see the whole town just going down the tubes.” She’s lived here for 45 years, she said, and last year her taxes went up by $600.
Buffalo Station restaurant owner Darrell Starbuck said that his business taxes have gone from $2,400 to $5,600 in the past four years. He thought Council should improve the outlook for local businesses before collecting money to pave streets.
He suggested that the Village could save money in road repair by keeping industrial traffic off Railway Ave.
Village staff and Council addressed the protesters, who filed into the Council Chambers with their signs.
Administrator Michelle Allen said the questions she’s been hearing from the public are about the tax rate, the new garbage truck and the new fire truck.The fire truck, she said, isn’t in this budget. The 22 year old garbage truck is. It needs to be replaced, but the Village can access half of its costs through federal grant money.
Although the Village has adequate reserve funds for operations, said Allen, it doesn’t have the money to repair its aging infrastructure.
Cache Creek spent over $1 million in 2009 to pave Maclean Dr., replace the utility lines and connections and add a sidewalk.
Mayor Andy Anderson said that recent repairs on Old Cariboo Rd. “taught us how quickly the money can get eaten up.” And there is still more work that could be done there.
Allen said the rise in taxes is directly tied to the new Northern and Rural Area Homeowner Benefit announced in January. It provides up to $200 relief for residential property tax in addition to the Home Owner Grant already in effect.
A house assessed at $250,000 won’t pay any extra taxes under the new tax increase, she said. The people in the lower range of assesments will get money back, she said.
Business owners aren’t eligible for the home owners grant. However, said treasurer Natalie Aalderink, many Ashcroft business assessments were lower this year.
Annual property assessments are conducted by BC Assessment, an authority created by the provincial government. The Village has no input into their decisions, but individuals may appeal their annual assessments.
Anderson said the Village has had no large tax increase in the last several years because there was no opportunity to have it offset by a grant like the recently announced rural home owner grant.
Ashcroft’s taxes have risen by two per cent tax for the past four years, but Allen said the increase is only enough to cover rising operating costs.
Starbuck asked Council to consider an 86-signature petition that asked them to delay adopting the budget for a few months while an altenative was discussed, but all Local Governments in BC are required by law to adopt their annual budgets by the middle of May.
“I think quite a few minds will be at ease when they get their tax notices,” said Anderson after the meeting.
Tax notices should be appearing in people’s mailboxes this week, along with copies of the home owners grant.