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Saanich council looks to reduce 6.69 per cent tax increase seen in draft budget

Tax hike even higher if $3.3 million for active transportation projects added in
Saanich’s draft budget calls for a 6.69-per-cent property tax increase, a number that would rise to almost nine per cent if $3.3 million in active transportation projects is added in. Council asked staff to bring back alternatives to reduce the final figure. (Black Press Media file photo)

Saanich’s draft budget discussions call for a 6.69 per cent increase to property taxes in the district, with an additional $3.3 million sought for capital projects outlined by the Active Transportation Advisory Committee.

“Right now the budget – if it comes to its full amount – is running over nine (9.05) per cent as a tax lift and I am not able to support that,” Mayor Fred Haynes said. “We have to protect the economic safety, income and livelihood of residents.”

If a flexible approach is taken, with non-critical work delayed, then resources to address urgent issues will be more widely available, he added.

Budget discussions continued at the March 10 meeting, during which council directed staff to bring back budget reduction scenarios designed to bring down the proposed tax increase as much as possible.

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Coun. Zac de Vries made a pitch for ruling out budget cuts relating to housing affordability and active transportation, but his motion to do so was defeated in a 5-3 vote.

De Vries told Black Press Media later that budgets are a way of setting priorities and it’s council’s job to guide staff in terms of delivering on clearly defined focus areas.

“These are areas of extremely high strategic importance,” he said. “We can’t keep all existing services if we want to embark on new initiatives that residents have been raising as important, without raising taxes a bit. But we really need to balance that and stick to a long-term plan.”

Mayoral candidate Dean Murdock, who sat as a Saanich councillor from 2008 to 2018, said this level of increase could have been avoided had the district followed its priorities more deliberately over the past few years.

“Because there has been back and forth on priorities – particularly active transportation – a much more focused approach would mean that council wouldn’t be confronted with these difficult choices now,” he said.

Council will reconvene on March 22, when funding options will be brought forward by staff. No decisions have been made yet.

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