Guest column: Saanich needs to do more for its economy

Coun. Fred Haynes weighs in on municipal economic work for the 21st century

Having just been through my first budget as a councillor for the District of Saanich, I certainly came to appreciate its complexity and the hard work staff and council put in to deliver the services our residents and businesses need.

To balance the books for our 2015 budget of $244.8 million our residential property taxes were increased 4.23 per cent. In looking at the future, I wanted to reflect on some simple ideas that could perhaps reduce the need for such property tax increases.

Municipal revenues arrive primarily from four sources: residential property taxes, commercial property taxes, services fees and grants from other governments. Each year council approves a policy that requires the municipality to continue to pursue revenue diversification to minimize the overall percentage of revenue raised from property taxes.

We can reduce pressures on our residential taxes by increasing the revenues available from an expanded economic base. Despite revenue challenges that included less commercial development, increased policing costs and cuts to spending, council approved our ongoing funding to three agencies that work to enhance our economic base: The Greater Victoria Development Agency will receive $30,000; Tourism Victoria will receive $36,000 and the Van Isle Film Commission will receive $35,700.

Each of these organizations works to promote our region on the national and international stage and bring businesses, people, prosperity and jobs to the economies of Saanich and the region. This funding helps to meet our policy objective for diversity in revenue sources that can reduce our dependence on residential taxes.

It seems clear that if we are to reduce the growing burden on residential taxes, we must have more economic development. I believe our municipality needs to take a more proactive role in creating an environment that fosters the growth of prosperity and jobs that support businesses and households in the community.

The question is: What kind of activities undertaken by Saanich can yield the economic benefits needed to expand the non-household based revenues available to the municipality? We can look at increases in new companies, new buildings, density and commercial vitality as both linked to and a byproduct of job creation activities. Those in turn generate growth in both municipal and household revenues.

In a spirit of open inquiry, here are some things to consider in Saanich to increase jobs and our economy.

• What can we be doing to increase our base of light industry, commercial and retail enterprises?

• How can we attract more commercial and residential developments, including the creation of more, much-needed, affordable work force housing?

• Can we engage more effectively with leaders in our construction and urban-development industries? Are we able to reduce municipal processing times for residential and commercial development permits?

• Can we harmonize “best practices” with other municipalities?

• Can we strengthen the outreach with our larger employers including the University of Victoria, Camosun College and the Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence?

• What is needed to optimize our high tech companies?

• How best to improve our dialogue with and support for small and medium businesses, including home businesses and other key economic stakeholders in Saanich?

• Can more be done to develop the economics of local agriculture and food production?

• Is it possible for Saanich and the region to develop as a global destination for cycling tourism?

• Is the amazing Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary optimally marketed?

• Can we better harness the adaptation needed for climate change as a driver for our own economic growth?

As the eighth largest municipality in B.C., Saanich is embedded in a dynamic, integrated and regional economy with a wide array of economic stakeholders. Our council has approved an open process to receive delegations and public input at council meetings. As well, our planning, transportation and economic development advisory committee can hear presentations on economic development from individuals or groups. Please accept this as an invitation to come before council or our committee in the coming months.

I look forward to ongoing discussions with our prosperity leaders, residents and council to explore, better understand and to implement Saanich and regional-based opportunities to expand our economy.

Success would enable us to reduce pressures on residential and commercial taxes. We shouldn’t raise taxes at an unsupportable rate. So in addition to seeking ways to increase revenues, we need to look for savings and cost efficiencies inside our organization.

***

Fred Haynes is a Saanich councillor and chair of the planning, transportation and economic development advisory committee.

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