An extra $20 per year in property taxes – based on the average valued home in Saanich – nearly derailed the passing of the district’s five-year financial plan and tax rate bylaw for 2022.
While there was general agreement around the table at Monday’s council meeting about the importance of investing in active transportation, affordable housing and road safety improvements, budgeting for additional staff to help with such challenges as development backlogs pushed the proposed 2022 property tax increase to 6.67 per cent from the 5.5-to-six-per-cent range previously requested by council.
Council voted 5-4 to approve third reading for the increase, which will translate to about $199 more in property taxes this year on the average home in Saanich, as well as the five-year financial plan that encompasses the 2022 strategy. Couns. Karen Harper, Judy Brownoff, Susan Brice and Natalie Chambers were opposed to both.
While some argued the tax hike was too much to ask of residents burdened with an increasing cost of goods, high rents and more, others said investments were needed now to help Saanich achieve its goals of creating more housing, boosting active transportation options and addressing climate strategies.
“I think this budget is the right budget for Saanich,” said Mayor Fred Haynes before the vote. Addressing the split amongst council on ways to move forward, he said it seemed council was united on climate actions, the need for more affordable housing, the desire to accelerate active transportation plans and improve cycling and traffic safety and related infrastructure. The disagreement was in the fine details of how to get there, he added.
A staff report stated the average tax increase projected for years two through five in the five-year financial plan was 3.70 per cent.
Haynes refuted an earlier statement by Harper, that property taxes will double within 10 years based on past figures if Saanich keeps on the unsustainable path it’s on. The mayor noted with significant residential development in corridors and villages, and the accompanying commercial growth, the district’s tax base will be broadened.
Among other concerns voiced, Brownoff suggested more caution could have been observed in the budget, given the potential for another wave of COVID to hit and likely staff shortages severely impacting the district’s workflow, slowing the pace of capital projects, among other things.
Brice noted adding the extra staff into this year’s budget would in essence reduce the district’s budgeting options for next year.
Coun. Colin Plant made a point, late in the discussion, that the difference between the six-per-cent ceiling the majority of council previously seemed comfortable with and the 6.67 per cent number staff arrived at was about $20 per year.
“To me, I don’t think that $20 was worth what we would have lost,” he said.
The staff report broke down the 6.67 per cent increase, noting that 4.22 per cent will go toward operations, resource requests and non-discretionary costs; 1.32 per cent for capital spending on infrastructure; 1.03 per cent for increased policing costs and 0.10 per cent for a funding increase for the Greater Victoria Public Library.
Council will vote on the final reading for the 2022 tax rate bylaw and five-year financial plan at its May 9 meeting.
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