New Westminster to reinstate 1% climate action levy in 2021
Dec 2, 2020 3:31 PM By: Theresa McManus | New Westminster RECORD
A 1% climate action levy is returning after being shelved as part of the city’s initial response to COVID-19.
New Westminster is reinstating the 1% climate action levy that was shelved earlier this year because of the pandemic.
During last year’s budget process, council supported the introduction of a 1% levy to help fund climate change projects and initiatives. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, council removed the levy, which would have shown up on residents’ and businesses’ utility bills.
As part of the 2021 budget process, the city’s utility commission and city staff recommended against reinstatement of the 1% climate action levy at this time, in an effort to continue to provide relief due to the pandemic. A majority of council, however, voted in favour of an electrical utility amendment bylaw that includes a 1% climate action levy.
Coun. Patrick Johnstone said “there’s always a reason to wait one more year to do these things” but the city can’t keep putting off efforts to tackle climate change.
“Even during COVID, the climate crisis has not gone away. It’s here. It’s happening,” he said. “We need to get back to where our vision was.”
Johnstone said he doesn’t see a 1% increase in the electricity rate as being a really big barrier to people, but he does see the long-term costs of climate inaction as an issue.
Councillors Chuck Puchmayr and Chinu Das opposed the reinstatement of the 1% levy in 2021.
Puchmayr said small businesses and citizens are hurting because of the pandemic. He supports deferment of the levy for another year, saying it would help families and seniors who are struggling.
“The climate emergency is an emergency. But this is different. This is a pandemic. This is a global pandemic – a once-in-a-100-year pandemic,” he said. “It is taking a while for people to really see the impacts, but when you drive up a street and you see all the For Lease signs, you can tell this is going to have some ripples for some time to come.”
Das said deferring the levy for another year doesn’t take away from the fact climate action is a priority of the city, but it does consider the health of the people.
“The health of the people – I am talking about the physical, the mental and the financial health of the people – have been impacted in a very serious way, and I think we have to take that into account and their ability to pay a climate levy,” she said.
Coun. Nadine Nakagawa supported the levy, saying the city can’t continue to delay efforts to address the climate crisis. She said that it is going to be “incredibly expensive” to deal with the impacts of the climate crisis.
“The bottom-line for me is that the climate crisis is coming,” agreed Coun. Mary Trentadue. “There is no doubt about that. I feel like we are behind. I feel like we are potentially behind in the funding that is going to be needed for the programs that we are going to have to put into place in the next five to 10 years. I feel like it is a responsibility to make sure that we put that funding into place as soon as possible.”
According to staff, the 2.8% increase to the utility rates will add about $42 to the average residence’s utilities in 2021, while the levy will add an additional $14. The levy is expected to generate $500,000 in 2021.
“At that cost I will be supporting the proposal,” said Coun. Jaimie McEvoy.
Puchmayr pointed out that the levy is just one of a number of increases that are coming forward, as water, sewer, solid waste utility rates and properties taxes will also rise.
Mayor Jonathan Cote said the utility commission and city staff focused on the fact that the people have had a difficult year dealing with the pandemic. He noted that more of the city’s electrical accounts are in arrears, which indicates folks are under more financial pressure this year.
Cote, however, supported the reintroduction of the levy in 2021, saying that continuing to “punt it down the road” makes it more difficult to address climate change and introduce initiatives related to the city’s Seven Bold Steps on climate change.
In November 2019, council endorsed a plan that includes seven areas where it plans to address the climate emergency. These relate to: becoming a carbon-free corporation (reducing the city’s overall carbon footprint and striving to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2030); becoming a car-light community; having carbon-free homes and buildings; increasing the number of pollution-free vehicles in the city; providing carbon-free energy; creating a robust urban forest; and developing a quality, people-centred public realm (including reallocating a minimum of 10% of today’s street spaces that are now serving motor vehicles to spaces for transportation or public gathering by 2030.)