Finally some good news for taxpayers. Well, sort of.
Burnaby ran a big surplus in 2014. In fact, they took in $158 million more than they spent. It’s a big number and what’s even more impressive is that it is about $100 million more than was expected.
Revenues were up and spending was kept under control. Sounds great, just the sort of prudent management of public money by a city council that I argue in favour of in this column.
But that’s not the whole story. Burnaby may have had a windfall, but what are they going to do with the money?
It turns out they put it in the bank, which isn’t a bad idea, but they are forgetting an important fact. It’s not their money. It belongs to the people of Burnaby.
Government surpluses are great – way better than running deficits and having to borrow money. But what surpluses really are is the government collecting more money than they need.
If they don’t need it, how about giving it back? Surpluses mean residents are paying taxes which are unnecessarily high.
What makes things worse in Burnaby’s situation is that taxes are going up. City Hall announced a tax hike of 2.98% for 2015. Now, they claim this is a great deal and if they weren’t so good at managing things the tax increase could have been as much as 5%.
What the City of Burnaby should do is pass this $100 million in extra cash back to families and small businesses by not raising their taxes. It’s a lot of money – it is close to one quarter of the City of Burnaby’s entire budget.
In their draft 2015 Financial Plan city staff lay out plans for tax hikes over each of the next five years totalling $42.2 million. Why not start by cancelling those tax hikes? It would still leave a healthy surplus. In fact, why not go a bit further and actually cut taxes a little?
We live in an expensive part of the world, and it is only getting more expensive. If we want everyday people to be able to afford to live here, government should try to make things a bit cheaper. Every little bit helps families, seniors on fixed incomes and small businesses.
The people of Burnaby should win from their City Hall’s good fiscal management and not be asked to shell out for higher taxes.