Column: Tax increase poor treatment

I’ll say this right up front: I’m not eager to pay several hundred dollars more per year in taxes to feel better about flushing the toilet.

I’ll say this right up front: I’m not eager to pay several hundred dollars more per year in taxes to feel better about flushing the toilet.

After decades of debate, bad publicity, many studies and one rejected referendum, Greater Victoria is about to spend $782 million on secondary sewage treatment.

For me, reality hit home when the Capital Regional District’s sewage committee released numbers that showed the possible tax hike for the average property. Living in a condo in Victoria, that’s about $300 or the high $200s (the average is $353) for my household. For my friends with a young family in Langford, it’s in the ballpark of $330. For my retired parents in Saanich, it’s an extra $230. If you are on a fixed income like they are, that’s a noticeable hit to one’s personal finances.

Looking back at the history of sewage treatment in Victoria, it’s hard to pry apart the ideology from the science, and what actually makes sense financially and environmentally.

Greater Victoria actually had a sewage referendum in November 1992. Residents had the option of paying nothing, paying an extra $232 in taxes per $100,000 of their property value (for primary treatment) or paying $336 per $100,000 of property value (for secondary treatment, which is what we are buying today).

If voting yourself a massive tax hike isn’t doomed to fail, I don’t know what is. Is it reasonable to expect that a person with a $200,000 home would voluntarily take on nearly $700 in extra taxes?

I’m pretty sure I voted for no tax hike back then, which, from one perspective, helped pass the buck to the current generation and my future self. Thanks for nothing, 1992.

Back then too, people in Washington State got all uppity about Victoria flushing its screened sewage into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Some Americans even boycotted coming to Victoria, which was a credible threat when the U.S. dollar was worth something.

B.C. and Washington State banded together and funded a 1994 study that found effluent concentrations off Victoria mostly flowed over from Vancouver and Seattle, despite both cities having basic sewage treatment. The study found that discharges from Victoria had a “negligible” effect on the waters in the strait. Victoria isn’t at fault and we can blame Vancouver? Money well spent.

In 2005 I was working at the Ladysmith Chronicle when I met Mr. Floatie (a.k.a. James Skwarok), the famously effective mascot that upended science and the existing rationale with poop humour. Soon after, I called a CRD environmental staffer, who, clearly annoyed and for the millionth time, explained how the Juan de Fuca Strait diluted and flushed Victoria’s effluent to little discernible effect on the marine environment.

A few years later and after the province ordered secondary sewage treatment, the CRD’s official stance flipped 180 degrees. That must have taken quite a bit of employee re-education over at the Fisgard Street office. Repeat after me: “Screened sewage is bad, secondary sewage treatment is good …”

A major independent scientific review in 2006 on the impact of dumping screened sewage into the ocean agreed that the Strait of Juan de Fuca is pretty good at flushing effluent away, and that bacteria plumes only rise to the surface during major rain events. Basically, the risk to human health is minimal, unless you are swimming laps offshore in a storm.

The report didn’t let the city off the hook – it said Victoria’s contribution of contaminants is probably minor, but the CRD needed much better information on the toxicity and impact on the marine environment near the outflows. It didn’t recommend sewage treatment outright, but said flushing wastewater into the strait isn’t a long-term solution.

It’s tough to argue against that. But is jumping to expensive secondary treatment necessary? If some form of sewage treatment is inevitable, the tax burden needs to be phased in incrementally. Victoria is expensive enough. Suddenly raise taxes by $300 and something will hit the fan.

— Edward Hill is the editor of the Saanich News.

editor@saanichnews.com

Just Posted

Steve Mann and Tim Hackett consider Marigold Lands their finest development. (Rendering courtesy Marigold Lands)
Marigold residences grow more townhouses and condos in Central Saanich

50 condos, 14 townhouses up next for project adjacent to Pat Bay Highway

Norman Mogensen sets up strings for his beans in his plot in the Oak Bay community gardens. (Christine van Reeuwyk/News Staff)
Oak Bay gardener spends decades cultivating, improving daddy’s beans

85-year-old vegan part of the community gardens scene

The Pool at the Esquimalt Rec Centre. (Courtesy of theTownship of Esquimalt/ Facebook)
Esquimalt Rec Centre restarting everyone welcome swim times later this month

The 90-minute sessions will be on select evenings and weekends

Diana Durrand and Arlene Nesbitt celebrate the new artist space in 2014. Gage Gallery moves this summer from Oak Bay to Bastion Square in Victoria. (Black Press Media file photo)
Gage Gallery moving to Bastion Square

Vivid Connections, a showcase by Laura Feeleus and Elizabeth Carefoot, opens new venue June 29

Theatre SKAM is offering mobile, pop-up performances to Greater Victoria residents once again this summer. They’ll feature emerging artists Yasmin D’Oshun, Courtney Crawford, Kaelan Bain and Kendra Bidwell (left to right). (Courtesy of Theatre SKAM)
Theatre performances can be ordered to Greater Victoria front yards this summer

Theatre SKAM offering mobile, pop-up performances once again

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

Emily Steele holds up a collage of her son, 16-year-old Elijah-Iain Beauregard who was stabbed and killed in June 2019, outside of Kelowna Law Courts on June 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kelowna woman who fatally stabbed teen facing up to 1.5 years of jail time

Her jail sentence would be followed by an additional one to 1.5 years of supervision

Cpl. Scott MacLeod and Police Service Dog Jago. Jago was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 17. (RCMP)
Abbotsford police, RCMP grieve 4-year-old service dog killed in line of duty

Jago killed by armed suspect during ‘high-risk’ incident in Alberta

The George Road wildfire near Lytton, B.C., has grown to 250 hectares. (BC Wildfire Service)
B.C. drone sighting halts helicopters fighting 250 hectares of wildfire

‘If a drone collides with firefighting aircraft the consequences could be deadly,’ says BC Wildfire Service

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a vaccination site in Vancouver Thursday, March 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
NACI advice to mix vaccines gets varied reaction from AstraZeneca double-dosers

NACI recommends an mRNA vaccine for all Canadians receiving a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

A aerial view shows the debris going into Quesnel Lake caused by a tailings pond breach near the town of Likely, B.C., Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Updated tailings code after Mount Polley an improvement: B.C. mines auditor

British Columbia’s chief auditor of mines has found changes to the province’s requirements for tailings storage facilities

A North Vancouver man was arrested Friday and three police officers were injured after a 10-person broke out at English Bay on June 19, 2021. (Youtube/Screen grab)
Man arrested, 3 police injured during 10-person brawl at Vancouver beach

The arrest was captured on video by bystanders, many of whom heckled the officers as they struggled with the handcuffed man

Patrick O’Brien, a 75-year-old fisherman, went missing near Port Angeles Thursday evening. (Courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard)
Search for lost fisherman near Victoria suspended, U.S. Coast Guard says

The 75-year-old man was reported missing Thursday evening

Most Read