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Oak Bay trims budget increase below 9%

Draft financial plan bylaw expected for potential adoption in mid-April
Oak Bay from above, including Oak Bay Marina and Beach Drive. (Black Press Media file photo)

Downloading costs and trimming the reach of a recently approved active transportation plan helped Oak Bay get its expected tax increase below double digits.

Council readily agreed to a couple early options recommended by staff including using non-market change revenue, generated from new assessments, to fund staff increases for a .3 per cent savings ($100,000).

The second was eliminating tax funding for general contingency. Prior to 2020, the district budgeted to forecast actual staffing levels not assuming full staffing levels as it does now. It will allow for a one-time tax decrease of $145,000 (.44 per cent).

Slightly larger savings came from from two shifts: one in the plan to implement bike infrastructure in the district and the other in how to cover costs of soil remediation.

Amendments to the BC Contaminated Sites Regulations came into effect, March 31, 2023 with new thresholds significantly lower than previously, resulting in a much higher volume of material now being classified as contaminated. As a result Oak Bay budgeted for the required soil testing, storage, double handling and changes to disposal or treatment. Staff suggested, and council agreed – albeit not unanimously – to split those costs.

“This is really supportable given that the regulatory change is imposed on us. We shouldn’t have to apologize about that, we have been forced to do something,” Coun. Leslie Watson said. “The rules have changed and I think it’s perfectly acceptable and defensible to actually pass the cost of that on to those who are subject to the rules.”

The latest draft budget includes funding soil remediation, half through user fees, trimming $150,000 or .45 per cent. While not every single connection would incur costs due to contaminated soil, it would be spread across all user fees. Council noted the district exempted homeowners from the connection fee while replacing the main in Uplands – currently underway.

Coun. Andrew Appleton and Mayor Kevin Murdoch opposed the shift.

“This is a straight download of an extraordinary cost on short notice to the citizens of this district. If there’s a cost to be borne it should be borne by everybody collectively in recognition that his is something that’s been imposed on the district collectively,” Appleton said. “There’s much that we don’t know about the implementation of this and in the interim, rather than passing it on to the homeowner, the district should assist in bearing that cost and advocate very strongly for additional funding and capacity.”

Appleton also strongly opposed the largest trim to the draft budget that halved the staff to be hired to implement parts of the active transportation plan.

RELATED: 9 projects planned over 5 years for Oak Bay bike network

Staff suggested an option to implement nine priority cycle routes over 10 years and phase in funding over five years to achieve an $188,100 or .57 per cent shave off the potential tax boost. Funding would come from capital works allocated for active transportation ($1.18 million) and $750,000 from the growing communities fund to help phase in an expected 2.9 per cent tax increase. It would establish a $1-million annual program that would be fully tax-funded by 2028.

Council had approved a five-year implementation strategy for the nine cycling facilities prioritized in the 2023 Oak Bay Active Transportation Strategy Review – funded through taxes – the Monday before. The suggestion was similar to an option presented, and discarded at that time, Appleton noted, adding revisiting “represents a reversal of what council has already committed itself to.”

What council landed on in a 4-3 vote on March 25, included hiring two active transportation planners to kick off the project.

That was cut to one new coordinator with a five-year implementation, an unlikely feat from staff’s perspective.

“It does not stop us from adding a second position in year two or three,” Murdoch said in support. “I really dislike approving a goal in principal without fully funding it, this is the exception.”

The trimming got Oak Bay around 8.65 per cent, with the draft 2024-2028 financial plan bylaw expected at council in mid-April for first readings.

The budget must be approved by mid-May.

Christine van Reeuwyk

About the Author: Christine van Reeuwyk

I'm dedicated to serving the community of Oak Bay as a senior journalist with the Greater Victoria news team.
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