Saanich council to staff, police board: find more 2015 budget savings

Proposed 4.5-per-cent increase on existing taxpayers too much, says Saanich council

Saanich council is asking staff and the police board to find further savings to bring down a proposed five per cent increase in the 2015 budget.

On Monday, council held the third of its financial planning meetings, where they heard once again that 2014 saw slower development growth than in the last five years.

That “new tax” usually helps absorb property tax increases by distributing the burden across new homeowners and businesses.

“Traditionally, the growth in tax role has been the buffer for growth in our costs,” Coun. Dean Murdock said in an interview.

“When we’re not able to absorb that through growth, that gets passed on to existing taxpayers.”

The average homeowner – defined as a property with an assessed value of $592,860 – would see a $99 increase in property tax in 2015 under the current budget proposal, representing a 4.48 per cent increase over last year.

That same homeowner will also see a $43 increase in sewer rate, a $26 increase in water utility and a $5 increase in garbage collection fees.

Murdock said one potential savings area is in the amount the municipality has been putting aside for its essential infrastructure replacement, which has been increasing for the past six years by .75 per cent to reach a $30-million target.

The fund now sits at about $25 million, so one option could be to taper back those capital increases over the next four years, Murdock said.

“We’re now getting to within a range to say we have an appropriate allocation to replace critical infrastructure, and we will hit that target in the next four years,” Murdock said.

“So the discussion we had was, ‘Are we close enough to reduce that number to half a per cent or .35 per cent?”

Council is also directing the Saanich Police Board to cut between $250,000 and $500,000 from its $1-million non-essential budget increase request for 2015. The police department ran over its operational budget by more than $633,000 last year, and it wants another $445,000 to establish a reserve fund for equipment and technology upgrades.

The overall police budget including wage increases accounts for 1.87 per cent of the overall property tax increase, according to a staff report.

“There was some debate at the council table over this, but the motion ultimately came forward to decrease that amount,” said Mayor Richard Atwell.

Another strong debate during financial planning has been the lack of formal public input used to guide the budgeting process, Atwell said. While residents can speak at the start of budget meetings, “it’s really just public feedback, not public input,” he said.

“Several councillors talked about the need for greater opportunity for public input earlier in the year moving forward,” Atwell said.

A report that addresses ways to increase public input opportunities, due back to council on March 23, will provide the first chance to address some of those concerns.

The 2014 budget also saw a $409,200 payout to former CAO Paul Murray, who parted ways from the municipality in December. Murray received another nearly $55,000 in unused vacation time when he left.

The severance payout represents an overall tax increase of about .42 per cent this year.

Another anomaly in the budget appears as a $1 million request to upgrade the municipality’s telephone system.

Atwell said council will need further information before approving that expenditure.

Council must approve relevant bylaws for the 2015 budget prior to May 15.

editor@saanichnews.com

 

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