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Staff proposes 2.47 per cent property tax hike

Policing accounts for largest chunk of increased spending in Abbotsford
Of the $3,447 in taxes and charges levied on a typical $588,000 single-family house in 2017, about two-thirds are municipal property taxes, including for police.

Abbotsford’s property taxes are set to go up slightly next year, thanks to increased policing costs and inflationary pressures.

But whether individual homeowners will be paying much more, or less, will likely to be determined more by December’s assessment numbers.

Last week, council got its first look at city staff’s proposed budget, which suggests a 2.47 increase in revenue collected from homeowners.

For the average resident of a typical single-family home worth $588,000, that figure would represent a tax-bill increase of $73, including water and sewer fees. For a $400,000 home, that would translate to a $56 increase. But few non-hypothetical residents are likely to see a precisely 2.47 per cent change in their tax bill.

Read the budget presentation here.

Instead, because residents are taxed on the assessed value of their homes, their bills will rise or fall based on how much BC Assessment thinks their house and land has changed, compared to the city average.

That means residents who see their properties appreciate more than average will end up paying far more than $73, while those who see smaller increases will pay less, or even see their taxes drop.

That’s what happened last year, when the city raised taxes by 2.13 per cent but many complained about tax bills that jumped by hundreds of dollars.

That led Mayor Henry Braun to speak to BC Assessment about how it values properties, and whether changes were being applied fairly and uniformly.

Last year, owners of single-family houses saw the largest assessment increases. Speaking to The News this week, Braun predicted townhouse and apartment homeowners who may have had a break last year could see sharply higher assessments this year.

Staff said Abbotsford’s taxes remain well below average compared to other B.C. cities with more than 35,000 people. Among neighbouring municipalities, only Chilliwack property owners pay less in tax.

Council has previously directed staff to keep tax increases in line with a “municipal price index” that paces inflationary costs on municipalities, like gas hikes and other goods and services bought by cities.

The 2.47 per cent increase, which is in line with that municipal price index increase, is more than the 2.18 anticipated last year.

Of that increase, nearly half – 46 per cent – was requested by Abbotsford Police, which has asked for a three per cent budget increase and which constitutes about one-fifth of all city spending.

Another 43 per cent of the tax increase would go to city expenses, with the remainder to transit and the Fraser Valley Regional Library.

The tax increase is expected to bring in about $3.2 million in new revenue to the city. Another $1.9 million is coming thanks to new development.

Of the $3,447 in taxes and charges levied on a typical $588,000 single-family house in 2017, about two-thirds are municipal property taxes, including for police. The next largest chunk are school taxes, with the remainder water, solid waste and sewer fees, and taxes for the Fraser Valley Regional District and hospital district.

Other figures presented by staff suggest the city is on increasingly solid financial footing. Long-term debt, and the interest rates that service those loans, have been decreasing steadily, while net financial assets have risen by more than $150 million since 2012.

The city has also been putting an increasing percentage of its revenue into reserves, which now stand at $140 million. That money, staff told council, is needed for the coming decades in order to maintain more than $1 billion worth of city infrastructure and to fund major water and sewer improvements.

Council must still approve the budget.