Oak Bay’s one per cent

Oak Bay’s one per cent

Draft budget drops by one per cent by spending from new capital reserve

A newly crafted infrastructure reserve could be in use the minute Oak Bay’s budget is approved.

Of this year’s expected gas tax funds, nearly $500,000 will remain in the capital reserve while another $200,000 will go toward a pair of infrastructure projects.

Less than a week after initial discussion during budget meetings, Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen made a bid to lower the expected tax increase by one per cent. The draft budget was at a 3.8 per cent increase after the April 19 meeting. Echoing earlier conversation, Jensen suggested Oak Bay use $203,000 of the funds set to go in the new capital reserve to a pair of infrastructure projects immediately.

Previously gas tax funds were set aside for the Uplands Sewer Separation Project now underway. With that cash in place, as well as grants, council opted during budget discussions to flow those funds into some form of new capital reserve.

“We get annually $700,000 a year from the gas tax fund from the federal government. That comes to the communities without a lot of conditions. It allows communities to spend it on a list of priorities,” Jensen said.

He suggests two projects fit that criteria: improving the intersection at Thompson and Cadboro Bay as well as extending the sidewalk on Thompson ($86,000) and storm drain upgrades in the Thompson-Estevan area and Dunlevy alley ($17,000).

The list of allowable uses includes local roads and bridges as well as active transportation, such as sidewalks (fits first). Water and wastewater.

“They would have otherwise been funded by taxes,” Jensen said. “We would in essence reduce the amount of taxes … bring that more in line with what I think people expect. It would reduce it approximately to 2.8 per cent.”

He admits its a risk to rely on federal funding.

“That is a small risk,” Jensen said, noting the federal government recently pledged a further $22 billion across Canada in addition to the $10 billion distributed over the last 10 years. He reads the gas tax as “permanent and predictable funding for small municipalities.”

Coun. Hazel Braithwaite disagreed: “I don’t believe we can rely on that I believe we’re at the whim of whoever’s in power at the federal government.”

Jensen found support from Couns. Tara Ney, Michelle Kirby and Tom Croft.

“We have to recognize there are people in our community who can’t react to tax increases like others,” Croft said, noting 27 per cent of residents have rental housing. “The rental increase for this year the province has said is 3.7 per cent… property owners need that for repairs and rent. The difference between the 3.8 and 2.8 is significant to people that are struggling to make their way in our community.”

Coun. Kevin Murdoch argued that if the number is too high, they need to revisit that in next year’s budget.

“The number that’s there right now (3.8 per cent) is painful and we should recognize that fact and own it,” said Coun. Kevin Murdoch.

“We’re just deferring the cost for future.”

cvanreeuwyk@oakbaynews.com