Municipal budget items are a cause for concern

There are many questions about the 2015 Oak Bay budget that require answers

I am writing in response to the letter on May 9, where the writer is calling on Oak Bay News to repress letters on particular topics. He says, “enough is enough” about residents being upset about the substantial 2015 budget tax increase.

I am sure council will welcome his plea to limit taxpayers’ comments on this important issue. However, let us not forget we were already paying the highest taxes in the region – with many more looming on the CRD horizon. It is important then to point out there are still many unanswered questions about some of the taxation concerns in the 2015 budget.

Some points that concern me are:

The estimate committee meetings were poorly publicized and council spent very little time considering the large tax increases in the proposed budget – unless they were debated in detail elsewhere. The impact on residential taxpayers was not a consideration. Some council members opposed some of the new expenditures, however, none of this was recorded in the minutes. The minutes and the belated meeting announcement confirm all of these facts.

Adding almost half a million dollars for new bureaucratic staff on top of the new expensive planner position is much too extravagant. This is particularly disturbing as increasing this kind of top-heavy staffing has been identified as one of the major causes of municipal tax increases.

Also there has been no considerable change in the municipal workload from past years. The OCP implementation, that council has assured residents will be a slow, gradual, well thought out process, should not warrant this unprecedented increase in (ongoing) non service-level staff.

Adding a full-time human resource position for just 400 staff is inefficient – when a ratio of one to 1,000 staff is the accepted benchmark. Surely sharing this and other positions with another municipality or training in-house staff would have been more economically responsible.

Adding executive and planning assistants and a full-time cultural position should have been a hard sell. The new floor area zoning changes, promoted by residents in Oak Bay News letters, should eliminate most of the excessive, time-consuming variance requests – freeing staff to address other activities and allowing council to spend more time on governance.

Council discussed it would be unfair to expect the business community to bear all the cost of the Oak Bay Beach Hotel’s defaulting on their property taxes, and decided this deficiency should be shared with the other two tax classifications (residential and recreational). However, council then turned around and cut business taxes – when Oak Bay already has the lowest business tax in the CRD.

There are many other questions about the 2015 budget that require answers, but restricting resident access to a primary source like the Oak Bay News will not aid in getting answers to them.

Residents currently have very few options where they can express their viewpoints and ideas about council decisions that adversely impact them.

Mary Hunt

Oak Bay