Some three months after the start of the year, the 2018 Saanich budget confirmation will finally be reviewed by council on April 10. A report from the chief administrative officer asking council to confirm the budget has been released to the public on the Saanich website. In it, the revised 2018 budget increase is listed as 3.70 per cent down from 4.17 per cent.
This is cold comfort when the cost of living in British Columbia is pegged at around 2% depending on what source you use. You also need to keep in mind that these numbers do not include sewer, water, and refuse collections which are charged separately.
So what causes Saanich to need this very high tax increase given that our neighbor, Victoria, is facing an increase of 2.77 per cent?
A major issue, not currently being considered by Council, is Saanich’s continual high budget surpluses. In 2017 the budget surplus was $3.25 million. This means that Saanich collected much more than it actually needed to provide the services, a trend in budgeting in Saanich. The Director of Finance has released figures that the annual operating surplus for Saanich over the last nine years averages $3 million.
So what does this mean to each of us as taxpayers? Saanich collects more than it needs every year but does not use that surplus to decrease the following year’s tax increase. In fact, the following year’s budget seems to be built on top of the excessive previous year’s budget and not on the actual figures for the previous year thereby compounding the problem.
Council was provided with budget reduction scenarios for the 2018 budget, one of which was for a tax increase of 2.7 per cent which is similar to Victoria. To do this $1.7 million needed to be trimmed from the draft budget. So using the budget surplus from 2017, we could hold the tax increase to the 2.7% and still have an annual surplus of $1.5 million. Not bad by any measure we think.
In short, we could enjoy the same tax increase that Victoria will be seeing this year and still put $1.5 million in the bank moving forward. The big question then is why we are not doing that?
We need to look to the council for answers. It is their job to provide governance and direction to staff so it is time that they did so. There is no reason that Saanich taxpayers should be facing tax increases that are well above the cost of living.
At the end of the day, it is up to council to set the tax rates and they are accountable to the taxpayer if they fail to do so with a measure of fiscal prudence.
Laurie and Bruce Kennedy are with the Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria.