Taxpayers looking at higher costs

The public can expect to take a bigger hit to their wallets in 2012.

The public can expect to take a bigger hit to their wallets in 2012.

Planned increases in federal, provincial and municipal fees will add up, taking a bigger chunk of income.

Abbotsford’s new council will soon debate the 2012 budget, and while no details have been released, a 10 per cent increase in the water and sewer rate has already been announced, and the city’s five-year financial plan calls for a 3.78 per cent tax increase in 2012. That figure may rise if trends seen in the last three budgets continue.

In 2009, municipal taxes increased by 5.5 per cent, followed by 4.5 per cent in 2010 and a 4.3 per cent raise in 2011.

Last year’s tax boost included 1.9 per cent for policing, 1.4 per cent for operating costs and one per cent for capital expenditures. A one per cent increase in municipal tax is equivalent to about $1 million.

In the past three years, policing has accounted for the majority of the municipal increases (1.9 per cent in 2011, 2.26 per cent in 2010 and 3.23 per cent in 2009).

There’s little indication that will be any different in 2012.

“I’m sure it won’t be,” said Abbotsford Mayor Bruce Banman. “The police department have done a fantastic job … all the citizens owe gratitude to the fantastic job the police have done. However, crime is also pretty much a bottomless pit.”

Banman said he has talked with police chief Bob Rich and while he cannot discuss financial figures at this time, he did ask the department to “find innovative ways” to do what they do and deliver it better.

“Everybody is aware that there needs to be some changes,” said Banman.

While he acknowledges taxes will not go down, the new mayor does want to see any increase kept in check.

“If I had my wish … taxes would stick to being equal to growth and/or inflation. There are times where you have to bite the bullet and go higher than that, but I really think taxpayers have had enough. They’re hurting.”

Banman estimated the inflation rate to be at the two per cent mark.

“You can’t turn it around on a dime. This may take awhile to get it under control.

“It may not be until next year’s budget that we actually get there, but I’m going to fight for as low an increase as possible. We know we are going to have an increase.”

He pointed out there are commitments that the city has to honour, including union contract wage increases, that affect this year’s spending decisions.

Abbotsford Coun. Bill MacGregor said this year’s budget, and the five-year financial plan, is on the table for the next in-camera meeting and he is expecting plenty of debate.

MacGregor was the only councillor who voted against last year’s tax increase and is calling for even more financial restraint than the mayor.

“There is no change in my perspective. I still feel we need to address the issue of increasing budgets … we need to stop and rethink everything that we are doing …”

He believes there are people who “simply cannot find more income” and, despite that, all three levels of government continue to “press the accelerator pedal down” in terms of taxation and fees.

MacGregor suggested that growth may not be the best option during tough economic times. He prefers the idea of maintaining what the city already has.

The two senior levels of government are already raising fees.

Provincially, the latest in a series of Medical Services Plan premium increases took effect Jan. 1. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation calculates that the increase means a family with children will see their monthly MSP bill rise from $121 to $128, or $84 a year extra. MSP premiums have gone up 18.5 per cent since 2009.

“Very few politicians and public sector employees pay the MSP tax, so they don’t understand the big deal,” said Jordan Bateman, the federation’s B.C. director. “But entrepreneurs, small business owners, middle class families and even those private sector employees lucky enough to have an employer pick up their MSP tab, know what a bite this is out of their pockets.”

Other everyday costs are also going up for B.C. residents.

BC Hydro rates were pared back in a spending review ordered by Energy Minister Rich Coleman. An interim eight per cent increase took effect in the spring of 2011, but BC Hydro has committed to rate increases of 3.9 per cent in 2012 and 2013.

The coming year will also see the last legislated increase in B.C.’s carbon tax on fossil fuels. As of July 1, 2012 the carbon tax on a litre of gasoline rises from 5.56 cents to 6.67, with similar increases on diesel, natural gas and other fuels used by consumers and industry.

The current legislation requires each increase to be offset by reductions in personal and business income taxes. Premier Christy Clark says consultation is underway with business and the public to see what direction the province takes on the carbon tax after 2012.

ICBC rates will also climb by about 2.1 per cent ($27), raising the average premium to $1,304.

Federal Employment Insurance and Canada Pension Plan premiums are set to rise by $306 for the average employee in 2012. Half of that is paid by the employee.

One bright spot, for those earning minimum wage, is an increase from $9.50 to $10.25 per hour beginning May 1.

– with files from Tom Fletcher