Letter: Is Oak Bay ready for participatory budgeting?

Residential input may help cut rising municipal costs

This municipality’s spending habits and inability to curb costs should worry all Oak Bay residents. In seven years (from 2008 to 2014) the property taxes collected by the municipality increased by 21 per cent. When you factor in inflation, the rising cost of goods and services and the fact that the mean family income (according to Statistics Canada) in Victoria increased 8.5 per cent from 2009 to 2013, Oak Bay doesn’t look so sunny anymore.

Unless the municipality changes its spending habits and focuses more on cost-reduction measures, I am expecting a 35 per cent increase over seven years now that the municipality has set their sights on a five per cent tax increase.

For some, a few hundred dollars more a month can mean the difference between living in your own home or not, living well or just surviving. Is this what we want?

The Official Community Plan says “Oak Bay’s residents are active contributors in local decision making, working collaboratively with municipal council and staff to ensure that Oak Bay will continue to thrive for years to come.”

So, how can residents be “active contributors” to help curb rising taxes and help council make the tough decisions that need to be made?

The District of Tofino offers one practical and feasible approach to democratizing the municipality’s financial planning process. They have started a process called “participatory budgeting” where community members will eventually vote on eligible arts and culture projects financed by council grants. The district’s invitation email describes how the process will start:

“You are invited to a workshop to develop the guidelines for the 2016 participatory budgeting process. Participatory budgeting is a democratic process in which the municipality allocates an amount of money for residents to propose and decide upon community projects for implementation.”

This type of out-of-the-box thinking is exactly what we need to help curb rising taxes. The recent federal election clearly demonstrated that the only barrier to making real change, like “participatory budgeting,” is political will. All it takes is one councillor to lead the change and put some financial control back into the hands of residents. Which councillor would like to take the lead?

David Blacoe

Oak Bay