The average Saanich homeowner will pay an additional $139 in property taxes after Saanich council unanimously approved the 2019 budget.
It raises revenues from property taxes by 5.37 per cent, with 27 per cent of the additional revenue flowing towards Saanich’s share of the Employers Health Tax (EHT).
Were it not for this form of provincial downloading, the property tax increase would have been 3.87 per cent, an acceptable figure, said Coun. Judy Brownoff, who supported the budget which balances belt-tightening in some areas with critical staffing additions in other areas.
“I’m quite fine going out [to the public] with this budget,” she said.
Coun. Colin Plant agreed. Like everybody else, he said he favours lower taxes, but results from Saanich’s citizens survey leave him with the conclusion that council is getting things right. “I can go to sleep tonight knowing I can live with this [budget], and I think our residents can as well,” he said, adding that he also feels for those individuals who might find the increase challenging.
Among other steps, Saanich arrived at the figure of 5.37 per cent through a one-time transfer from surplus to offset the financial effects of EHT – a move praised by Coun. Karen Harper, who supported the budget but expressed reservations about the staff additions.
Council had earlier approved 18 additional staff, despite attempts by Harper and Coun. Ned Taylor to reduce the number by at least three, if not more. Drawing a line in the sand for future budget discussions, she expressed hope that the approval of these positions in this year’s budget would not encourage ongoing requests in the future. Saanich, she said, should continue to find savings in its operations.
Taylor also supported the budget, but expressed frustration about the apparent unwillingness of his colleagues to make tough decisions.
He called the tax lift “significant” and predicted that it would have a negative impact on affordability for not only homeowners, but also renters. “It’s affecting affordable housing, it’s affecting the affordability of this municipality,” he said.
While Taylor acknowledged the need for additional staff, he drew a sharp contrast between council’s decision to approve 18 new positions for its operations, while forcing the police department to accept a budget below what it had initially requested (Saanich Police will receive resources for two additional staff).
Coun. Rebecca Mersereau defended the staff increase. It will help staff address gaps that have opened up during a decade or so of holding the line. Developers have long lamented processing times for applications, something the additions promise to fix among other concerns.
Mayor Fred Haynes praised the discourse around the budget, noting staff have found ways to incorporate it. He also said that additional staff will help the municipality grow its commercial base, something that would ultimately help Saanich reduce the tax burden on residents.