Editorial: Get budget smart before the tax man cometh

Property taxes are slated to rise by 4.5 per cent in the coming year, if the budget passes without adjustment

Financial planning is upon the District of Saanich once again, but you’d never know it with the piddly turnout at the first unveiling of the 2015-2019 draft budget on Tuesday.

Property taxes are slated to rise by 4.5 per cent in the coming year, if the budget passes without adjustment.

Those numbers are mostly due to unchangeable salary and MSP increases at the District, as well as vehicle and equipment replacement costs for the Saanich Police Department. But there are big “asks” by some departments for what are touted as critical needs. Saanich PD is also requesting a reserve fund to help cover those replacements in future years. Why a reserve fund didn’t exist in previous years is yet to be determined.

The budget also earmarks $100,000 for the much-touted governance review, the details of which will congeal slightly in March when a staff report comes back to council.

There’s also an estimated $150,000 needed to install webcasting of council meetings, which will be funded through non-tax sources (possibly 2014 surplus cash, but first needing a decision from council). The City of Victoria installed its webcasting in the fall of 2013 at a cost of $50,000 for equipment and software, with another $17,000 annually to operate and maintain the service. North Saanich pays about $10,000 each year for webcasting; Sooke spends $7,500 annually.

Other eye-popping numbers include $1 million for telephone assessment and upgrades at municipal hall and $1 million for a financial software upgrade. Comparisons with other municipalities will be fundamental before council can make an informed decision and sign off on each of these budget line items.

And don’t forget: financial planning meetings are open to public input. Check out the budget online at saanich.ca and then attend the Feb. 24 and/or March 2 committee of the whole meetings. Make sure your voice is heard before the tax man cometh.