The Employers Health Tax (EHT) threatens to split councillors into two camps, as budget deliberations turned towards the size of the proposed tax lift Tuesday.
The proposed lift calls for Saanich to increase property taxes by 5.6 per cent after council had considered grant requests and other items Tuesday. That figure includes — at least for now — funding for additional staff among other items, as well as funding for the EHT introduced by the provincial government effective Jan. 1. Minus the tax, Saanich’s property tax would go up by 4.1 per cent — a figure with which several councillors appeared satisfied with when held up against the larger context of the EHT’s introduction.
“If this budget did not have the [EHT] in it, I would have zero problems supporting this budget as is,” said Coun. Colin Plant. He acknowledged that the EHT portion takes Saanich over the symbolic figure of five per cent. “But for me, I live in the greatest municipality in Canada, and you need money to have the greatest municipality in Canada.”
Coun. Judy Brownoff agreed, pointing to the need for additional staff to help improve planning and bylaw enforcement. “I’m not willing to reduce our taxes because of the [EHT],” she said.
But the public also heard from Couns. Karen Harper and Rebecca Mersereau.
While Harper said she would support some staff additions, she nonetheless considered the proposed lift excessive.
“I would have difficulty with going to 4.1 [per cent],” said Harper.
That figure appears twice as high as inflation, she said.
Mersereau, meanwhile, said she would be uncomfortable with the lift if all additional requests are approved in calling for ways to reduce the lift. While some additional initiatives like Saanich’s Older Adult Strategy require additional resources, other items (like media monitoring) might be too costly.
Mayor Fred Haynes, for his part, said he too would like to see a lower increase. “It is a big lift,” he said. “I’m not happy with the size of this lift.”
But he also said that the additional requests address previous commitments, as well as campaign promises, suggesting that it would be disingenuous to campaign on one thing, then deny staff the additional resources to fulfill promises.
“So my mind is still open, and I hear some of the comments from my colleagues, that they may surgically go [into the budget] and may be change a few things. But what I have also heard is that this is an integrated mesh of services.”
Budget discussion continue Tuesday, March 26.