Greg & Colin Thornton

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Tax mistake in Port Coquitlam


The good news is that Port Coquitlam homeowners are expected to pay less in property taxes this year than the city had initially planned.



The bad news is that the same taxpayers may have forked over more than was necessary in 2012.



A review of council’s approved funding decisions conducted by the city’s finance staff found that a planned infrastructure reserve transfer was duplicated in this year’s financial plan.



(The infrastructure reserve, established in 2010, has collected 1% annually to address the gap in funding needed to replace aging roads and facilities.)



“As a consequence, the reserve fund transfer included in the budget for 2013 is inflated by $442,000,” said a city staff report. “The financial plan and related Tax Rates Bylaws for 2013 are therefore being reduced.”



That means that instead of a 3.7% increase that was initially announced, residential property owners will get a bill with a 2.84% increase, which translates into a tax bill that’s about $16.50 less for the average single-family homeowner.



What is further complicating the issue is the fact all B.C. cities are legally required to finalize their budgets by May 15 — next Wednesday.



With the deadline looming, council is expected to vote on Monday to rescind third reading of its old tax bylaw before voting on the new amendment.



If it passes, a special meeting will have to be held on Tuesday — the quickest amount of time between readings that is legally allowed — to give the amended document fourth and final reading.



The duplication of the infrastructure reserve transfer was also present in last year’s budget, according to Richard Wells, PoCo’s interim director of corporate services. But he stopped short of saying that the city collected more in 2012 than it had intended.



Had council known about the duplication, he said, it is likely it would have kept the property tax increase for 2012 at the same percentage the city collected and used the money for other things.



“It’s hard to go back and try to determine what council’s decisions would have been or whether they would have decided to do other projects,” he said. “It is hard to go back and say that it would have been different.”



He added that the total shown on residents’ tax bills was the amount collected by the city and no one was overcharged.



Last year, in an effort to keep rates low, council voted to use surplus funds from the 2011 budget to reduce the 1% increase to about 0.28%. But because of the duplication, residents would have paid both, for a total of 1.28%, said Wells.



Council is expected to discuss the issue during Monday night’s meeting at 7 p.m. at city hall (2580 Shaughnessy Street).



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