Sooke residents may dodge COVID-19-related costs on their 2021 property taxes, with the financial impacts of the pandemic not hitting bills until 2024.
On Monday, council gave the first two readings to a bylaw, which proposes a 3.3 per cent property tax increase recommended by district staff in the 2021 draft financial plan.
“It’s wonderful we’re working this year with a 3.3 per cent increase as opposed to last year when we were trying to get out from six per cent (down to zero),” Coun. Jeff Bateman said.
In the way many Sooke residents are struggling due to the pandemic, so is the municipality, Mayor Maja Tait told the Sooke News Mirror in an interview last week.
“What we’re trying to do is find our own balance between care and cost,” she said.
District council approved a zero per cent increase in 2020.
This year, the district received $2.9-million from a provincial program aimed at COVID-19 relief, which sliced the proposed tax increase in half. The 3.3 per cent tax hike for 2021 will see the owner of an average single-family home assessed at $500,111 pay a $50 increase. (Council could still whittle down the tax increase after further public input and discussions with community stakeholders).
Included in the 2021 financial plan are more than $553,000 from the province’s COVID-19 relief program:
• $28,000 to support economic development through the Sooke Region Chamber of Commerce
• $118,000 for community economic development staff
• $82,000 to provide additional auxiliary staffing to the parks department
• $125,000 for a website update and upgrades to computer hardware and software
• $100,000 in new vehicle purchases for the parks and bylaw departments
• $100,000 top-up due to the loss of casino revenue
A staff report also recommends $5,000 to meet WorkSafeBC safety standards, $45,000 to fund integrated policing units, such as Crime Stoppers and contractors for both the planning and operations departments and fire department expenses of $66,000 outside COVID-19 relief funding. There are also several capital projects in the planning stages.
Financial services director Raechel Gray said the district could only use the provincial grant for specific costs related to COVID-19. “It needs to be tied to COVID and any changes as a result due to COVID,” she said.
The district can use the provincial COVID relief money into its 2022 and 2023 budget years.
Council must pass this year’s $29.7-million financial plan by May 15.