2 out of 3 Port Moody residents think cultural services should be capped or cut, according to 2024 budget survey

When making service cuts, Port Moody should start in its cultural service section, according to about two-thirds of residents who provided feedback on the 2024 budget.

It’s the second straight year where residents are facing a significant residential property tax increase. The draft budget has suggested an 8.13 percent hike this year, following a 9.29 percent increase approved in 2023.

Mayor Meghan Lahti directed staff to come back with options to reduce the tax rate by another 2 percent before discussions on March 5.

“We may or may not choose to go down that path,” Lahti said. “We can determine what’s possible and what’s not possible. . . . But I want us to have those options put in front of us.”

A total of 409 residents – a record high – completed the city’s online survey regarding the draft budget from Jan. 8 to 29, 2024, with more than half providing written feedback or comments.

While a large majority of respondents reported receiving good (58 percent) or excellent (9 percent) value in relation to the taxes and utility fees they pay, some key focuses of council are high on the public’s chopping block.

Aside from cultural services, planning and development services along with building permits, licensing and bylaw enforcement also ranked high in suggested areas to reduce service levels.

Cultural services are tasked with a number of key projects for council, namely the mayor’s new Arts and Business Task Force, and bringing back community events to a pre-COVID 19 schedule.

New funding requirements this year include a new public art coordinator for $86,253, holding Car Free Day for $123,600, and the mayor’s task force for $75,000.

Approximately 64 percent favoured reducing service levels: 32 percent favoured not collecting any additional taxes, while 32 percent though service levels should be further reduced by lowering taxes.

Coun. Amy Lubik noted the public consultations ahead of the 2023 budget also listed cultural services as a top area for cuts.

“I wonder if there might be an opportunity to do some outreach and to highlight all of the amazing work that cultural services do,” she said.

Several councillors agreed it was a good idea, suggesting the public may be unaware of the work that the city’s arts and culture department is involved in.

Coun. Diana Dilworth added they might want to consider expanding the city’s Art at Council program, or referring the issue back to the Arts and Culture Committee or the mayor’s task force for recommendations.

Coun. Callan Morrison noted there were so many cuts to cultural services during the pandemic that bringing it back to full capacity was going to come with a cost. “We’re still, I think, in a little bit of a transition period,” he said.

Meanwhile, the city’s building permits, licensing and bylaw enforcement services, along with planning and development services also ranked high the public’s list for cuts.

For the former, a total 49 percent of respondents suggested reducing services levels, with 32 percent in favour of Port Moody collecting the same dollar amount as last year and 17 percent in support of reducing further by collecting less money.

For planning and development, 31 percent suggested reducing service by collecting the same amount as last year and 17 percent in favour of reducing service further by collecting even less.

The city is currently processing the largest developments in its history, specifically around its Inlet Centre and Moody Centre transit oriented development (TOD) areas.

Lahti said she thought that some of the survey questions were not well understood by the respondents, stating service levels and levels of taxation are very different.

“Obviously, we can’t reduce planning and development services. That’s something that we have a lot of pressure on right now,” she said.

Overall, however, most Port Moody residents wanted to maintain current services levels through tax increases (37 percent), or even enhance services through a bigger tax bump (16 percent).

Conversely, only 32 percent wanted service levels reduced by no tax increases, and only 12 percent wanted the city to lower taxes to reduce services further (though these percentages have increased slightly from last year).

Service areas where residents want to see the biggest improvements are the development and planning of the city’s road and transportation networks. They listed concerns related to infrastructure, traffic management, road safety and conditions (particularly around high density developments).

Sustaining natural environments like the city’s green space, parks, fields and trails amid planned population growth were also high on the list for residents.

Another key improvement area for residents was investment into new recreational facilities and enhancing programs to meet the community needs.

Coun. Haven Lurbiecki said the public feedback clearly shows anxieties associated with adding significantly more density to the city. She said the concerns in the budget survey reflect similar themes collected during other engagement surveys conducted by the city.

“I think our residents are really recognizing the relationship between the taxes they pay, and the services and amenities they receive, or not: like functioning roads, or not enough park space,” she said. “These are directly linked to how we manage population growth.”

Lurbiecki also referenced a previous staff report showing that the tax burden on residential taxpayers has jumped from 48 percent in 1993 to 67 percent today.

During the same timeframe, the report showed Port Moody’s industrial tax base has fallen from 34 percent to just 17 percent in 2024.

Staff said the “dramatic change” is due to loss of several major industries, such as Imperial Oil’s Ioco refinery, which has left residents on the hook for larger share of the city’s tax base

“To be frank, if we keep eliminating our industrial spaces and our business spaces, I do not see a possibility where that tax burden will simply not continue to go up,” Lurbiecki said.

Lahti agreed with the assessment regarding the city’s industrial tax base, stating it is a major concern.

However, she said her concerns were more focused on the city’s light industrial lands on Murray Street, rather than those in the Moody Centre TOD area.

“(The province’s) TOD circles will push density up on Murray Street, which is something that we’ve really been trying to protect and enhance,” she said. “I think we do need to be alert to that.”

Lurbiecki noted the TOD legislation does not apply to land currently zoned industrial, unless it undergoes zoning change to residential use.

The city has looked at a number of different revenue streams in recent years to lessen the burden of residential property owners, including advertising on billboards and bus shelters, said Paul Rockwood, general manager of finance.

He added there is a lot of lobbying by municipalities, including Port Moody, to try and get a share of the province’s sales tax revenue, similar to other Canadian provinces.

“We’re always looking for opportunities. Unfortunately, under the community charter, it’s very limiting on what we can target for revenue,” Rockwood said.

Patrick Penner, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Tri-Cities Dispatch