Sidney residents are getting a break on their property taxes, but the final tax bill is not in yet.
Last week council trimmed the proposed increase in revenue from property tax, raising it by 1.79 per cent, or $27 for the year based on the ‘average’ residence assessed at $695,000. Sidney had started budget discussions with a proposed increase of 2.98 per cent — or $45.
Total municipal taxes for the average residence will be about $1,546 for this year, or $129 per month, according to information from the municipality.
In a release, Sidney said the proposed tax increase — which the municipality describes as “modest” — falls under the current rate of inflation (2.3 per cent for January), but is also reminding the public that tax changes for other jurisdictions that make up about half the total tax bill are not yet finalized.
“As always, the tax increase for any individual residence will vary, depending on its assessment change relative to the average home, which increased by only 0.2 per cent this year, and is valued at about $695,000,” it reads.
Sidney council signed off on the budget following final deliberations on Tuesday, which included a number of changes. Perhaps the most controversial inclusion saw a narrow majority of council increase financial support for the Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea by $140,000 to $205,000 annually between 2021 and 2026. Council had already raised financial support for the centre to $205,000 earlier for 2020 after an increase in 2019.
Couns. Sara Duncan, Barbara Fallot, Chad Rintoul and Peter Wainwright had voted in favour of the increase, while Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith, Scott Garnett and Terri O’Keeffe opposed the increase. The trio had instead supported a motion to increase financial support to $205,000, but only for 2021 and 2022.
Speaking in support of the approved increase, Wainwright said that the longer time frame gives the centre some planning certainty as they try to put it on better financial footing, while also acknowledging the centre’s previous financial issues. While Duncan acknowledged that the next council, not this council, would ultimately decide whether the centre would continue to receive current levels of support, she added that councils are elected to make hard decisions, if necessary.
Rintoul described the approved amount as a “lot of money” but also as an investment into an attraction that brings people to Sidney. Its absence would be felt, he added.
Perhaps the most forceful opposition to the approved increase came from O’Keeffe. While she expressed public confidence in the leadership of the centre, she also wondered aloud whether the centre would be able to reach its goals and called for a shorter time frame for support. This approach would give Sidney additional information before offering more support.
If councillors narrowly split over financial support for the Shaw Centre, they were unanimous in their support to increase annual funding for Sidney Museum & Archives. It will receive an additional $20,000 for a total of $109,985 annually. Sidney Museum & Archives has also asked for $20,000 from North Saanich to help fund an additional staff member. The public heard earlier that the additional staff would help the current two staff members focus on revenue-generating tasks.
Councillors also signed off funding $20,000 in 2022 towards hiring a transit consultant to assist with planning and analysis for a pilot trolley service, connecting downtown Sidney with the municipality’s west side. The idea of a trolley service first appeared in connection with the proposed, since-shelved Gateway project, a $35-million shopping centre proposed on land owned by the Victoria Airport Authority on the southeast corner of Beacon Avenue, west of Highway 17. Support for the project was not unanimous, as O’Keeffe and Fallot tried but failed to remove the item from the supplemental requests.
Rintoul and O’Keeffe also tried but failed to trim back the budget for decorative street lighting to $20,000 from $28,650.
Gone from the budget though, is a pilot project to deter seagulls from the downtown core following a narrow vote against the proposal. The idea had first emerged in the fall of 2019, earning applause from the Sidney Business Improvement Area Society.
“[Sidewalks] and cars littered with seagull poop certainly detract from the attractiveness and cleanliness of the town,” said Morgan Shaw, executive director at the time.
Fallot picked up on this point, but McNeil-Smith questioned the efficacy of the project. Even if Sidney managed to deter seagulls from its own lightpoles, they would just go elsewhere, he said.
This cut was among several measures councillors took to reduce the tax burden. Sidney also reduced funding for local and regional economic development and identified non-tax funding for other projects.
“By listening to priorities expressed by our residents and working with [municipal] staff, we found innovative ways to make minor changes to the proposed budget that reduced the financial impact to taxpayers, without affecting services or the long-term financial health of [Sidney],” said McNeil-Smith in a release after councillors unanimously approved the final budget.
It includes 102 capital projects promising to maintain or improve services. The 2020 capital program totals $10 million, with most of the funding coming from reserves, and includes $4.7 million in infrastructure replacement projects, $900,000 for Reay Creek Dam, $250,000 for public washrooms, and $200,000 for improvements at Rathdown Park.
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