As Saanich council and staff wrestle with the tough decisions around the budget table, it quickly becomes apparent there are no easy answers.
Council has asked staff to sharpen their pencils in order to find reductions in a budget that would currently carry a 4.45 per cent tax increase for Saanich homeowners. The goal is to reduce that figure to around three per cent.
While tax hikes enjoy near unanimous disapproval, every measure to lessen the tax impact creates ripples that threaten to jeopardize programs and services valued by significant segments of the population.
Coun. Susan Brice hinted at this paradox in outlining council’s desire to “lower the impact on taxes,” while suggesting the public might not like some of the decisions that are a product of that desire.
Among those to feel the pain of fiscal restraints are the non-profit groups that rely on municipal grants to provide the services that many in the community view as a necessity. Council is moving to reduce the nearly $500,000 in grants provided to community organizations last year. From preserving the district’s heritage to providing assistance to refugees, from supporting the community’s seniors to protecting our environment – fiscal restraint means there may be less money to go around to support these worthy endeavours.
And cuts to those grants will make up only a fraction of the savings council needs to achieve in order to meet its budget goals.
A number of options are being considered to reduce the tax impact by 1.5 per cent. Those include a reduction in additional funding to the capital infrastructure program; reducing the annual operating contingency; using previous surpluses to fund current operations, along with reducing grant funding and permissive tax exemptions. It was determined that a cut to municipal services would require staffing cuts that are untenable.
There is little doubt the vast majority of Saanich residents would encourage their elected representatives to keep any tax increase to a minimum. But the actions taken to achieve that end will likely create entirely new concerns.