AT ISSUE: BALANCED BUDGET

How can Saanich balance its annual budget while also finding money to pay for large-ticket items such as sewage and light rail?

What will be the best way for Saanich to balance its annual budget while also finding money to pay for large-ticket items such as sewage and light rail?

 

David Cubberley, mayoral candidate:

“These projects can’t be funded by property taxes. We have a sewer utility, which creates separate utility billing based on your use you make of the system. That’s the vehicle for billing charges for this new infrastructure. When we’re talking paying for transportation upgrades like light rail, property taxes don’t capture anyone’s use of the roadway. This leads me to fuel tax as a source of revenue, but a lot is already collected. For light rail, we need a comprehensive review of the business study, because I don’t think that system would cost that much. While that’s going on, we need to talk to senior levels of government to see what they can do. I’m willing to ask and explore that. If you don’t ask, you don’t get – what’s gone on in the last decade in the Capital Region is living proof of that. I can’t guarantee you that I’ll be successful in lobbying the government, but no one can. But someone has to make the right argument and advocate on taxpayers’ interests and nobody is doing that right now.”

 

Frank Leonard, mayoral candidate:

“We’ll have to phase some expenditures to respect the taxpayers’ abilities to pay. We do that within our Saanich budget and the same goes for a billion-dollar expenditure. I think you have to look at a multi-year fiscal plan, and we have to do that to see when expenditures can be accommodated. It requires financial discipline and respecting the taxpayers’ ability to pay. In the case of major expenditures, we need to have a dialogue with our citizens once we know more of the answers – namely what senior government funding will come through. I’ve had good success in getting provincial and federal funding for projects. We keep upgrading our recreation centres, the library at Pearkes, the new Arts Centre at Cedar Hill, 55 Plus in Cordova Bay – and I have personally lobbied for Saanich on those files. I’ve negotiated big-ticket agreements for B.C. as president of the Union of B.C. Municipalities and executive director of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. I’m confident that once we know what you know what you’re asking for, I know how to lobby on behalf of Saanich and the region. But you have to make sure you have the ‘ask’ defined, and that’s what creating a dialogue will help us define.”

 

Susan Brice, council candidate:

“Regardless of what kind of resources we get from senior levels of government, it still puts a lot of it to the local taxpayer. If we can make these 50- to 75-year projects and try and finance those over as long a period as possible, that will keep the per-annual cost down as low as we can. Balancing all that, along with our need to keep up on all our existing municipal infrastructure – increases are definitely likely. Or council will have some very serious discussions with the community as to what services they currently have that they would be prepared to forgo.”

 

Judy Brownoff, council candidate:

“People are panicking that it’s just going to be property taxes that’ll be used to pay for this. We have to be creative about the local share. We, as municipalities, have been taking far more responsibilities on from other levels of government without any funding to go along with it. With LRT, you don’t need to fund it if you start putting land development with it. Everyone panics when numbers are first shown. We have to recognize that we can get creative.”

 

Vic Derman, council candidate:

“If somebody’s assuming we’re going to do LRT and throw the cost onto property tax, I disagree very strongly. We need to find ways to pay for it without burdening property tax owners. Sewage, if that occurs, is going to be a huge hit on Saanich taxpayers because it’s hard to find other ways to pay for it. With light-rail transit, if you do it well, you can keep it off property taxes. It has unique advantages in terms of stimulating redevelopment that would most likely result in a substantial increase in property taxes along that particular corridor.”

 

Paul Gerrard, council candidate:

“Property taxes govern a lot of what we do. The way we handle particular infrastructure is by setting budgets that are realistic without impacting the property taxes too much. People cannot have services and improvements without some sort of increase. You don’t get anything unless you have that. We cannot run a deficit. We have to rely on being frugal, and looking at property taxes responsibility. Sometimes we’ll need short-term borrowing, sometimes we’ll need long-term borrowing. When they are needed, we live without our means.”

 

Ingrid Ip, council candidate:

“The best way is to try and cut costs in other areas, including reducing the salaries for councillors. I think that we should have curbside garbage pickup – that would save money. These things will have to prioritized. I don’t like the idea of borrowing money to pay for sewage, but if that’s something that’s mandated, we may have to go that way in order to fund that.”

 

Dean Murdock, council candidate:

“It’s about priority-setting. We need to make sure that as we move forward we’re being thoughtful about maintaining the high quality services that residents expect from Saanich. It’s not going to be possible to build everything at one time, so we need to stagger those approaches and ensure we’re investing in the services that our residents want. Every one of the elected officials has a responsibility to be sensitive to the burden property taxes have on taxpayers. We need to work with senior levels of government to leverage opportunities for funding, as well.”

 

Vicki Sanders, council candidate:

“When we look at our expenses, perhaps we look at some partnerships outside of just provincial and federal funding. Corporate funding is something that we haven’t been as open to, or cautious of sharing in, but we have to be creative in ways we can still manage to do business, as well as shoulder the burden of sewage treatment and transportation costs. We are under the order to treat our sewage – that has to take priority over light-rail if we have to prioritize our spending.”

 

Nichola Wade, council candidate:

“These projects have to be funding out of Saanich’s capital plan. With light rail, densification of that corridor is required in order to justify that expenditure – you can fund the system through the taxation revenue that’s derived from that. But we need business cases first. We need to know what these things are going to cost. And again, with light rail, I’m leaning to the idea that people need to be engaged in that decision-making because it’s ultimately their money that’s going to be spent.”

 

Leif Wergeland, council candidate:

“Hopefully senior levels of government will come up with their share of the money, but even if they contribute, the one thing that’s left is still a fairly significant increase in taxes. We have to ensure these large-ticket items are planned well ahead and worked through. We can’t do it just on our property taxes and keep saying we want to keep Saanich an affordable place to live. If we do have opportunities for funding, we have to plan for that.”

 

Rob Wickson, council candidate:

“Saanich has really missed the opportunities in terms of our land-use. We should’ve been working hard to sell opportunities for land use along major corridors in a way that allows for tax revenues, using the same infrastructure that’s there, to increase to a point where we can start to afford those things. Unfortunately, we may need to make investment first. With light-rail, if that investment’s made, it’s very likely the land-use around it could be easily shifted to a higher-revenue land base. You make the investments today, absorb some of those costs, in terms of borrowing costs, if needed, and pay it back in the future with the increased revenue we generate.”

 

Harald Wolf, council candidate:

“We have to look at the budget, look at the cost of these systems, and then really engage the public. They’re constantly pressuring for more services, then complain when they’re expected to pay for them. We have to start thinking about how to budget for improvements in the current population. I’m concerned that most planning and improvements are based on growth projections, and I’m not convinced this growth will happen. We need to get look at the ways we’re subsidizing existing system, get our hands on some of that money and start diverting it to future planning.”

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