Councillor blasts Saanich’s budget approach

Coun. Karen Harper criticized Saanich’s budget process as the council read various financial bylaws Monday.

“The approach that we have taken is not one that I would have chosen, if I had been on council at the time,” she said. “And I want to be very clear — staff have followed the direction that they have been given.”

Saanich’s budget calls for a property tax hike of 3.07 per cent, more than one per cent lower than the figure of 4.17 per cent.

“We did end up with an improved number, partly because of the decisions that council made, which is great, but also partially because of luck, if I were to put it bluntly, because we did have additional funds that were identified late in the process,” she said.

While council made progress, it could have done better, she said, pointing towards inflation figures. Living costs rose 1.9 per cent between March 2017 and March 2018, while Saanich’s proposed tax increase represents a figure 50 per cent over inflation.

“So the long and the short of it is that I will not vote for this, nor will I vote against this,” she said. “I appreciate that that means in a practical sense I’m voting for it, but I can’t actually bring myself to vote for a lift of 3.07 per cent, although it will show I did in the minutes.”

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Coun. Fred Haynes tabled two notices of motion Monday.

The first asks staff to report back on options and potential impacts to “assist and stimulate” an increase in the supply and affordability of rental housing.

Proposed incentives include among other options density bonuses, tax breaks and subsidies, utilization of the provision from the provincial government for “incentive” zoning and, and possibly including pre-zoned areas in the vicinity of Saanich’s two post-secondary institutions.

Haynes’ second motion asks staff to send letters to federal officials including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, requesting that Ottawa improve both the processing time and numbers of both private and government-sponsored refugees.

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Saanich will contribute $150,000 towards an affordable housing project currently under construction at 1550 Arrow Road. The project run by the Mount Douglas Seniors Housing Society (MDSHS) calls for 84 affordable housing units for seniors. As of March 1, Saanich’s housing had a balance of $460,000, so Saanich commits one third of the entire fund to one project.

Launched in 2007, the fund has so far supported three projects: the Pacific Housing Project ($23,231), the Cottage Grove project on Quadra Avenue ($112,000) and Rosalie’s Village ($172,000).

Council considers contributions on their individual merit rather than a specific policy.

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Violations of new Saanich’s blasting bylaw could leave a sizable hole in the pockets of violators.

Blasting without a permit, outside permitted hours, contrary to permit and failure to notify within 100 metres of blast sites will trigger a fine of $1,000. Saanich had considered a earlier version of the bylaw two weeks, but input from the public prompted staff to up the fines and include failure to notify as a violation category.

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