Saanich residents will find their wallets aren’t as light when the property tax payments are due as council has further reduced the property tax increase for 2020 in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
During a council meeting on April 20, six of nine councillors voted in favour of further reducing the property tax increase to 2.4 per cent – based on the annual consumer price index – and direct Saanich staff to look into how to implement the reduced increase.
#Saanich Council votes to lower property tax increase from 3.74% to 2.4% for 2020. Vote was 6-3. I did not support as I do not believe it helps enough. New financial plan bylaw to come. While unable to support it, I 100% respect my colleagues perspectives. #yyjpoli #Saanpoli— Colin Plant (@ColinPlant2018) April 21, 2020
At the end of March, council approved a status quo budget for 2020 resulting in a tax increase of 3.74 per cent – instead of the 7.2 per cent increase in the initial proposed budget – in an effort to reduce the financial burden on residents during the pandemic, Mayor Fred Haynes said. At this time, council heard that amendments could still be made to the 2020 financial plan bylaw prior to the May 15 deadline.
On April 20 – in what Haynes called a “historic” meeting – council reopened the 2020 budget and reviewed a report from the municipality’s director of finance, Valla Tinney, asking that the property tax increase be reexamined.
In the report, she explained that due to the pandemic, many municipalities have opted to adjust their initial financial plans to reduce the burden on residents. She added that council had also received several requests from the public asking for the tax increase to be reduced.
After what Haynes called a “robust discussion,” council voted in favour of reducing the tax increase to 2.4 per cent – Couns. Colin Plant, Rebecca Mersereau and Zac de Vries were opposed.
Plant felt the 2.4 per cent increase would not help residents enough, explaining that the property tax increase should be reduced to zero.
Mersereau also opposed the motion and equated it to “rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic ” as she felt the reduction would not have enough of an impact on the residents experiencing the financial impacts of the crisis – specifically renters who would not benefit unless landlords pass on the savings. De Vries agreed, noting that the people who are vulnerable in the pandemic aren’t likely to be helped by the tax increase reduction. He added it could just be shifting the financial hardships to next year.
Municipal staff were directed to seek “mechanisms to reach the 2.4 per cent increase” and bring the options back to council at the April 27 meeting. Haynes said this means the discussion is not over as the logistics need to be sorted to ensure that the municipality can still operate and provide necessary services while providing residents with financial relief. He added that the 3.74 per cent tax increase was previously deemed the minimum required to keep Saanich running, so staff will be looking at ways to cut costs.