I have been receiving complaints from many Oak Bay residents about the 5.1 per cent increase in property taxes. I agree this increase is unusually high (especially in Oak Bay).
Many of the letters I have received have blamed the increase on densification projects. But if you look carefully at the budget lines where increases have been made, they definitely are not due to any densification projects. The expenses are more accurately explained by staff-recommended increases for operations and infrastructure.
Previous councils have shunned expenses that include a planner (recall the zoning bylaw passed in 2007 that allowed monster houses – passed without the advice of a registered planner), human resources (there has been no HR personnel for an organization of 400-plus employees and during a time of increasingly complex labor regulations), and technology support (to build and maintain a web page and use social media to engage and communicate with citizens more openly and efficiently).
And, in spite of good advise from staff, past councils have kept taxes down by deferring costs for major infrastructure projects (like Uplands sewer and maintenance of roads, water and sewer mains, etc). In fact, some roads in Oak Bay are in such disrepair now due to neglect that we have to start again to rebuild them. In hindsight, these may not have been good decisions.
Staff reports show that it is costing us (the taxpayers) more to ignore these expenses than to deal with them – kind of like neglecting a failing roof on a home. So this council voted unanimously at public meetings that the right thing to do is to deal with these expenses now. To leave these costs for future generations would be irresponsible and unfair.
This is a not-so sexy budget with real benefits. I can assure you council deliberated extensively and laboriously to find places where we could economize on the budget. We have been strategic in prioritizing current expenses, and I am confident that we can ensure a more efficiently operated municipality with support for these initiatives.
Tara Ney, councillor