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Pemberton council adopts 9.8% tax increase

With population booming and costs increasing, council taking “aggressive” approach to shore up infrastructure
An aerial view of downtown Pemberton.

Pemberton's mayor and council approved a 9.8-per-cent tax increase for 2024 at a special council meeting May 9, just days after giving the related bylaws first three readings.

Pemberton Mayor Mike Richman acknowledged the nearly 10-per-cent bump is a more “aggressive” approach in comparison to previous years, while councillors stressed the increase will help shore up the village’s infrastructure ahead of an expected population boom. Pemberton is likely to reach a population of 5,000 in the near future, and council is planning accordingly. The village’s population grew from 2,574 in the 2016 census to 3,407 in 2021.

Council initially gave first, second and third readings to the 2024 Annual Tax Rates Bylaw and the Five-Year Financial Bylaw at a meeting Tuesday, May 7.

According to staff, a one-per-cent municipal property tax increase would equate to $23,862 in revenue for the Village of Pemberton (VOP). The 9.8-per-cent tax increase would bring in $233,848.

The estimated 2024 municipal tax rate for the average family is $1,518.27, before the tax increase. An average family would pay an extra $144.02 with the proposed tax increase. The average residential property would fork out an added $100.90. Whereas businesses in the downtown core would face a $581.79 bump. Businesses in the Industrial Park would pay $210.38 more.

Council previously discussed a staff-recommended 9.8-per-cent tax increase during a committee of the whole meeting on Tuesday, April 30, during which councillors acknowledged the increase would be a leap from previous years. Pemberton’s council approved a five-per-cent tax increase in 2022, and an eight-per-cent increase in 2023.

Manager of finance Thomas Sikora said the VOP is trying to reframe its strategy from “let’s keep taxes low,” to “let’s keep assets healthy,” (while still considering affordability).

The committee of the whole meeting was council’s fourth budget session of the year.

In a presentation, Sikora outlined the pressures council is currently facing, including: Increasing expenses to maintain aging infrastructure; continued impact of deferred maintenance; increase in price of goods and services; deteriorating road conditions and road-maintenance requirements; equipment reaching end of life; staff retention; limited alternative revenue streams; airport crack sealing; and other one-time projects.

Council is also looking at future transit expansion and recreation costs, not to mention the looming spectre of increased policing costs once Pemberton’s population hits 5,000, after which the village will be on the hook for 70 per cent of the spend. In 2023, the VOP police budget was $288,447—once the population threshold is reached, that figure could climb to more than $1 million. Provincial COVID-19 grant funding received in 2021 will also run out before the end of the fiscal year.

Some of the projects planned for 2024 include: construction of a new amenity building at Den Duyf Park; the Lot 13 multi-modal hub (which will include bays for BC Transit buses as a second phase to the project); upgrades to the water treatment plant; and airport runway crack sealing.

Staff have tried to decrease costs in any way they can, Sikora said. Those measures included but are not limited to the confirmation of Small Communities Grant Funding (awaiting formal communications), Savings for website upgrades, deferral of paving on Aster Street and $50,000 from the Resort Municipality of Whistler to support transit commuter service.

Councillor Laura Ramsden said she preferred a gradual tax increase over the coming years instead of bringing in really large increases down the line, stressing council is already playing catch up.

“Communities are being hit with increases over 30 per cent,” she said. “I am mindful that money is very tight for people right now. We know that we have issues with infrastructure, and we have limited reserves. It’s never fun asking people for more but I don’t like the idea of us kicking it down the road.”

Mayor Mike Richman acknowledged the approach is more “aggressive” than residents are used to.

“We have over the last 10 years or so been a little overly cautious,” he said, acknowledging councillors’ and staff’s efforts to keep the tax increase as low as possible. “We have never been this aggressive before in shoring up our infrastructure.”

Coun. Katrina Nightingale said the public is concerned about infrastructure, and how ready Pemberton is for a boom in population.

“I really feel for businesses. I know last summer, businesses really struggled because it was quiet,” she said. “That does concern me. We are paying the price for historically low taxes. We can’t just keep kicking the can down the road.”

After giving both bylaws all three readings at the latest council meeting, Richman said he was confident everyone had found the right balance.

“This tax rate bylaw includes the highest tax rate that I’ve been a part of,” he said. “I know that it’s going to be a little bit challenging for some of our residents because affordability is a challenge right now. It’s a reflection of inflation and pressures put on our communities.”

Details on the proposed tax increase and council’s Five-Year Financial Plan can be found here.