Saanich council approved a core budget aimed at allowing municipal operations to continue without burdening residents with high property tax increase in light of COVID-19.
During the March 23 meeting, council considered three recommendations regarding financial planning for 2020. As a result, they unanimously approved a revenue anticipation borrowing bylaw to ensure sufficient funds for operating costs in the event that property tax collection is delayed. The budget also allocates the 2019 annual surplus and 2020 contingency fund to cover the costs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2020 contingency is $700,000 and while the 2019 surplus has yet to be finalized though Mayor Fred Haynes said it has been between $1.5 and $2.5 million in the past.
The science is clear, climate action cannot wait. We cannot forget about one major global crisis to address another. We can and must address both!
— Zac de Vries – Saanich Councillor (@zac4saanich) March 24, 2020
Councillors were also asked to consider directing staff to prepare a financial plan for 2020 based on the core budget which was presented on March 3 and reflects a property tax increase of 3.74 per cent. The motion passed despite three of the nine councillors opposing after a lengthy debate.
The core budget includes no non-discretionary expenses aside from those laid out in the police budget, Haynes said. This means that Saanich’s climate action, among other things, will remain the same in 2020 but he pointed out that actions people are taking around the world in response to COVID-19 – reduced car and airplane travel, for example – will likely have a positive effect.
A 2020 budget including all desired projects and resource requests would have led to a 7.2 per cent tax increase, Haynes said. He felt that in light of the “fragile economic circumstances” caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it would not be moral to ask residents to pay for “non-necessities.”
Couns. Rebecca Mersereau, Ned Taylor and Zac de Vries voted against the motion as they were opposed to a budget that didn’t include accelerated climate action.
De Vries said that while council respects the hardships residents face, he felt the rationale that the pandemic will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions is “naive and ridiculous” and putting aside one global crisis aside for another isn’t right.
“A pandemic is not climate action,” he said, adding Saanich’s current climate action is inadequate and needed to be improved upon in 2020 to reach the 2030 targets. “Doing nothing is extremely shortsighted and puts us all at risk.”
Haynes said council was disappointed to have to halt the projects planned for 2020 and he respected the arguments against the core budget, but that the choice was made out of “compassion for residents.”
De Vries is confident residents will continue to make positive changes even without “municipal leadership” adding that council will have to look at advocating for climate action next year.