The first week of budget talks whittled down Saanich’s proposed property tax hike to 4.78 per cent from the original figure of 5.93 per cent as the second week of talks start.
The figure of 4.78 per cent consists out of two components — a hike of 1.5 per cent to cover the provincial-mandated introduction of the Employers Health Tax (EHT and a ‘municipal’ hike of 3.28 per cent. Practically, it means that each average homeowner will pay a total of $124 in additional property taxes, $29 less than what they would have under the initial increase. (The EHT portion of the increase consists out of $39 in both scenarios).
Megan Catalano, a spokesperson for the District of Saanich, said this figure remains subject to change, noting councillors will receive an updated report ahead of financial planning meeting scheduled for March 12.
Previous comments from various council members including but not exclusively Coun. Karen Harper suggests that council will look for ways to lower that figure even further.
The current figure emerged among other reasons after council had rejected the provisional budget of Saanich Police. Its original submission asked for an additional $1.668 million in funding — an increase of 4.97 per cent over last year’s budget. But despite warnings from Saanich’s top cop, Chief Constable Bob Downie, council asked him to re-submit a “status quo” budget with an increase of 3.55 per cent.
Council considers the budget “status quo” because it would retain existing service levels. Downie, in turn, had lobbied for additional resources, citing various current and future service gaps. A majority of council, however, rejected his arguments, pointing to the larger financial context facing the municipality, and high levels of public satisfaction.
While going through the respective budgets of various departments, council also found $900,000 in savings, while raising recreation rates. It also added — at least for the purpose of deliberations — items (including 19 additional staff across various departments) worth $928,780 to the draft financial budget.
The proposed staff additions promise to address various administrative gaps, especially but not exclusively in the area of planning and the processing of development permits, areas of frequent criticism from the local development community.
Pending any changes, Saanich councillors will meet again Tuesday, March 12, and Wednesday, March 26, for additional deliberations and final decisions.