Early budget forecast shows average Saanich taxpayer can expect to pay $120 more this year

$218-million budget includes $1.08 million for sidewalk improvements, $1.6 million for bike lanes and $200,000 for a Douglas corridor study.

While most of last Tuesday’s budget meeting centred on the Cedar Hill golf course’s future, director of finance Paul Murray also outlined the Saanich’s $218-million budget for 2012.

Among the highlights he mentioned were $1.08 million for sidewalk improvements, $1.6 million for new or improved bike lanes and $200,000 for a Douglas corridor planning study.

Saanich homeowners will see their property taxes increase 3.6 per cent (covering operational increases, infrastructure replacement, and infrastructure maintenance). For a Saanich home valued at $626,000 — considered the “average” worth of a home in the community — that equates to an additional $73, plus a $47 increase to utility rates.

“Our budget process is open to the public. There’s a public piece at the start of each … budget meeting where anybody can give their feedback or comments,” Murray said. “If folks have got specific points of view to make about parts of that budget, it’s a matter of finding out what night the particular area they’re thinking about is on, coming out, and making their points of view heard at that meeting.”

Murray says that all Saanich departments, save for public safety, were required to cut one per cent from each of their budgets.

“(Part of the property tax increase) is to maintain the level of core services: police, fire, roads, public works, parks and recreation. It’s just the rising costs of doing municipal business,” he said. “The departments are being asked to do more with a little bit less, which is difficult. This is the fourth year of doing that, in order to keep tax increases in check.”

The less-than-four-per-cent increase is in check with other municipalities in the region.

Victoria mayor Dean Fortin has asked his municipality’s staff to limit any tax increase to four per cent. Oak Bay’s municipal treasurer says they have yet to determine what the increase will be for 2012, but it amounted to 3.74 per cent last year.

In 2011, Saanich residents paid an average of $133 (in property taxes and utilities) more than they did in 2010, while Victoria residents paid an average of $135 more.

Budget meetings are scheduled for Feb. 21 and 28, March 5, 6 and 20, and April 17. All meetings are held at Saanich municipal hall (770 Vernon Ave.), except the Feb. 21 meeting, which happens at Garth Homer Society (813 Darwin Ave.).

To read the complete 2012-2016 Draft Financial Plan, download it at saanich.ca/services/budget.html.

kslavin@saanichnews.com