Abbotsford's residential taxpayers are facing a possible tax hike of 1.34 per cent in 2013.
Council set the figure at its meeting on Monday so staff could use it to compile a consolidated budget
That means an Abbotsford homeowner with an average house valued at $400,000 would pay an extra $25 a year in property taxes.
Council considered a 2.66 per cent tax increase but dropped the rate by denying several new positions, including Abbotsford Fire Rescue Service's request for new members to improve response times in the northeast end of the city and rural areas of Sumas Prairie and Aberdeen.
It was the second year in a row council has denied the AFRS request for 20 more firefighters, who would come online in intervals, for a total increased budget cost of $1.6 million over a four-year period.
However, that figure could be reduced by saving $600,000 in overtime during that period if the fire department was staffed to meet demand, said AFRS Chief Don Beer.
The council's decision means a continuation of slower response times out of Fire Hall 7 on Old Clayburn Road, which is staffed by auxiliary firefighters who cover Auguston, Sandy Hill, Clayburn Village, and the Ledgeview and McKee Road areas.
Auxiliary firefighters, who have to respond to calls from work or home, can take more than seven minutes to scramble, versus career members that have a turn-out time of one minute and 30 seconds, said Beer.
The desired overall response time to a fire in urban areas is seven minutes but times from Hall 7 can range up to 12 minutes.
Coun. Henry Braun suggested the AFRS master plan needed to be revamped to reflect Abbotsford's economic restraints and slower population growth.
"We're building infrastructure faster than our population is increasing," said Braun.
Coun. Patricia Ross said fire service levels are not based on population but response times.
Every person in the community deserved the same level of service and a difference of one or two minutes could impact someone's chance of surviving a fire, she said.
"God forbid you are the one that has to wait that extra minute or two."
Councillors Bill MacGregor and Dave Loewen agreed with Ross, stressing that residents have made it clear that public safety is their No. 1 priority.
However, the rest of the councillors and Mayor Bruce Banman felt taxpayers could not tolerate the associated costs.
"There will always be a disconnect between what we want and we can afford," said Coun. Simon Gibson.
The council also rejected requests to hire a special events coordinator and a payroll manager.
But the city did hire a new bylaw enforcement officer for $85,000 along with a senior planner and a plan checker, two positions expected to create a net benefit of $11,000 for the city.
A big cost that has to absorbed by residents in the 2013 budget is the loss of $860,000 in tax revenue due to a change imposed by the provincial government on the way farm buildings are assessed.
To recover the lost revenue, the council increased general taxes by 0.78 per cent to all property tax classes. In terms of the 2013 budget, a one per cent tax increase is equivalent to $1.1 million of city revenue.
To keep the proposed tax hike at 1.34 per cent, council also eliminated a one per cent tax levy to supplement the city's strapped capital reserve.
The reserve acts as the city's savings dedicated to long-term capital investment projects or other large future expenses.