Saanich councillors rejected calls for tax relief from a local business group, but left themselves open the possibility of revising rates before the end of their term.
Council, meeting as committee of the whole, confirmed that Saanich will continue to equalize tax increases between classes to ensure what staff call “tax stability” under the current approach of tax sharing.
With this confirmation of the status quo, council rejected calls from the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce to change Saanich’s approach.
“Businesses have been concerned about the direction of Saanich’s tax policy, as the multiplier has been increasing at an alarming rate,” said Catherine Holt, chief executive officer in a letter to council dated March 4. “We encourage you to consider the tax multiplier and take action to reduce it,” she said later. “With one of the highest business tax burdens in Greater Victoria, Saanich is discouraging future investments.”
Drawing on 2018 figures, Class 1 residential properties — which account for 93.2 per cent of all assessed properties — cover 76.21 per cent of taxes. Class six commercial properties — which account for 6.7 per cent of assessed properties — cover 23.15 per cent of taxes raised. This form of sharing means commercial properties owners pay roughly 4.3 dollars for every dollar that residential property owners pay into the overall tax pot for a ratio — or multiplier — of 4.3-to-1.
While final assessment figures are not yet available, with average assessment increases for commercial stronger than residential, this year’s tax multiplier is shaping up to drop marginally.
A 2018 report found Saanich to have the highest commercial-to-residential tax ratio among the twenty largest municipalities in the British Columbia. Within the region, Saanich has the fourth-highest region, according to staff.
Councillors — which received the letter from Holt hours before their meeting — however confirmed the status quo, which calls on Saanich to apply any increases equally across categories of properties.
Saanich’s current 76-23 split reflects decisions dating to 2009, when Saanich set a minimum target of 19 per cent for revenue from commercial properties. In 2012, the target rose to 20 per cent, in 2014 to 21 per cent, and in 2016 to 23 per cent where it has remained.
While not cast in stone, staff expect that this 76-23 split will remain for the foreseeable future.
Councillors, for their part, largely sounded satisfied with the current arrangements — at least for now.
Coun. Colin Plant pushed back against the argument from the business community that they are not getting full value for their additional tax dollars. “I’m not apologetic for having the multiplier,” he said. “I appreciate you never want to be the outlier, but this council has demonstrated it is willing to be equitable in how it deals with taxation.” Saanich, he said, is a largely residential community.
This said, he concurred with calls from Coun. Karen Harper to review this file before the end of the current term. Saanich, he added, remains committed to increasing business revenue — not through raising its taxation share, but through creating additional business opportunities.
Mayor Fred Haynes, citing staff, actually noted that business has been growing, without any significant changes in the ratio. He also said that Saanich would continue to look for additional opportunities to grow business.
Holt for her part would have preferred council to aggressively “reduce” the commercial share from its current level to 20 per cent over six years.