Saanich council takes heat for salary increase

Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria notes that three municipalities in the region have passed tax increases of less than one per cent

Coun. Fred Haynes had reservations about Saanich’s budget but praises council’s decision to hold back its annual surplus for strategic initiatives.

Coun. Fred Haynes had reservations about Saanich’s budget but praises council’s decision to hold back its annual surplus for strategic initiatives.

Saanich council members could have sent a signal by declining the remuneration increase that they approved for themselves last week, according to a group of citizens tracking public spending.

Mayor Richard Atwell will receive $101,105.66, up from $99,362.91. Each of the seven councillors will receive $40,617.55, up from $39.362.91. Council approved these increases last week during budget deliberations.

“Council just voted a 3.53 per cent property tax increase in the 2017 budget that may turn out to be one of the largest, if not the largest, budget increase of any of the 13 municipalities in the Capital Region,” said Stan Bartlett, chair of Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria. “There was a missed opportunity by council to decline the [salary] increase to help moderate the tax.”

Considering this context, many taxpayers might consider this increase “a little cheeky,” said Bartlett.

He added that mayor and councillors do not just receive higher remunerations. “Under federal legislation, one-third of the amounts are a tax-exempt allowance for incidental expenses,” he said. “On top of all that, the taxpayers need to add the cost of benefits they receive. Some councillors also receive remuneration for sitting on various boards or agencies in the region.”

With the increase, Saanich matches the average remuneration figures for eight communities in British Columbia that includes Kelowna and Victoria, according to public figures.

Remuneration “shall be based on the average of the remuneration of [council] members in other municipalities of comparable size,” according to Saanich’s council remuneration policy.

The remuneration for Saanich’s mayor was 1.75 per cent below and for councillors 2.85 per cent below the average for the eight communities.

Looking at the larger picture, Bartlett noted that three municipalities in the region have passed tax increases of less than one per cent: Esquimalt (0.5 per cent); View Royal (0.47) and Sidney (0.66) per cent.

Oak Bay, meanwhile, is considering a property tax increase of 2.8 per cent, while the City of Victoria has set itself a limit of three per cent, according to its 2017-2021 Draft Financial Plan.

Saanich council unanimously approved the increase last week, but several councillors, including Coun. Fred Haynes, suggested council should have kept the increase lower.

“While I voted in support of the budget, I raised several approaches where we could have reduced the lift this year,” said Haynes. “I believe we need to look at these again next year.” With these comments, Haynes echoed Coun. Colin Plant, who initially considered voting against the budget.

“We did accommodate more staffing in the planning department. I am hopeful these will help with our processing of land use applications, including our local area plans, building permits, and reports on improving the supply and diversity of housing in Saanich.”

Haynes said he was very pleased though that Saanich reserved its annual surplus of about $1.2 million for strategic uses instead of being applied to infrastructure reserve. “This means that Saanich has the funds from this tax year available for funding projects next year,” he said. “By example, this could be updating local area plans, revising the EDPA, studies on the supply of more housing [and] review of the administrative efficiencies of issuing development permits.”

Haynes also agreed with Plant that Saanich needs to change its ratio between taxes from business properties and residential properties. It currently overwhelmingly favours residential properties.