North Saanich council has approved its 2021 budget raising revenues from property taxes by 2.84 per cent but not before one councillor argued residents are not paying enough taxes.
“We are a ‘have’ community and I think we need to suck it up,” said Coun. Brett Smyth in arguing that municipal services have a price.
He made that comment as council considered options to cut a proposed tax increase of 3.86 per cent, according to a staff report. Council considered two options: cut the increase by one per cent or 1.5 per cent. Smyth later argued to add an individual cut from the second option to the first option, an unusual development from somebody who thinks North Saanich residents are not taxed enough, he acknowledged.
Perhaps the most notable budget change approved is the addition of a full-time planner with a special focus on climate change with the twist that budgeting for the position won’t start until the second half of 2021. This move saves the municipality $52,800 (just under half of the realized reduction and half of the salary for the post) with the proviso that the deferral will show up in 2022 budget.
The hiring of this additional planner comes against the backdrop of growing concerns about the effects of climate on the Saanich Peninsula and comments from senior staff that the municipality has been previously lacking the “horsepower” to address various planning issues.
Concerned about the pace of the response to climate change, Coun. Celia Stock expressed fears that the hiring might lead to the bureaucratization of the climate change file. Coun. Murray Weisenberger welcomed the hiring as North Saanich’s contribution to the response.
A residents’ survey part of the budget process found 62 per cent of 112 respondents opposed the position.
Council rejected a request by Central Saanich to share a climate action and natural environment coordinator. (Central Saanich also asked Sidney).
The position, according to Central Saanich staff, would focus on the implementation of municipal climate change mitigation measures.
Sidney, however, has already budgeted funds for its own position and North Saanich staff argued against Central Saanich’s offer, citing practical considerations.
This discussion prompted Weisenberger to make an argument for amalgamating the three Saanich Peninsula communities. This sort of jurisdictional difference would not be an issue in the case of amalgamation, he said.
Staff are now preparing the necessary bylaws for council’s approval later this spring. The 2021 budget follows the municipality’s stated desire to shift the tax burden toward residential properties. Average residential properties will see their taxes go up 3.15 per cent (or $42) while business properties will see an increase of two per cent (an increase of $382).
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