I have attended several of the recent Saanich council meetings which are reviewing the proposed property taxes for the coming year. It is with great concern that I note yet again there is not only an increase proposed, but a 3.25 per cent increase in property tax versus the barely 1.1 per cent increase in the Consumer Price Index to the end of 2015.
This would be less disturbing if it were a one off. But it is not.
Since 2002 Saanich taxes (excluding utility bills) have increased 74.06 per cent on the average home, while during that time, the cost of living went up only 18.6 per cent. This is an incredible disconnect, and cannot be explained away by saying that municipalities use a different basket of goods than the CPI, as was stated by staff at the Feb. 2 budget meeting. I am a taxpayer who is quite prepared to pay taxes in exchange for value for money. I am not seeing this.
Saanich should be able to bring in a budget this year at 1.6 per cent or less, as the majority of costs are salary and related items.
Other municipalities seem to be able to see their way clear to a lower number. Currently in Sidney, they are proposing 0.81 per cent, with Victoria proposing 2.05 per cent, including utility fees.
Saanich has also collected additional taxes for a number of years to fund an aging infrastructure, and during the last election we were advised that was soon to be fully funded.
Why are we not beginning to use those monies to help pay for any infrastructure expenses, rather than increasing taxes yet again?
Most councillors ran a campaign which included making Saanich an affordable place to live. If they really believe what they said, they must start being leaders, direct staff, through the CAO, to bring in a budget at or less than the CPI. Given the 55-plus per cent extra lift to taxes over the CPI since 2002, it is simply not credible that there are no efficiencies to be found.
One method to be considered for developing next year’s budget would be to go through a zero based budgeting process, as is done in Edmonton.
It would also be worthwhile to review the difference between things that are nice to have versus things that are necessary.