Tofino residents are looking at a 7.4 per cent municipal property tax increase this year and a roughly 53 per cent tax increase over the next five years.
“Tofino Council understands that increases in the cost of living and from the addition of new services are difficult, especially for certain homeowners such as those living on fixed incomes,” said Tofino mayor Josie Osborne. “Decisions to raise taxes are never made lightly, and always in full acknowledgment of the tradeoffs that must be made when balancing the services our community needs and wants with our ability to pay for them. This is, in part, why community feedback is so important.”
Black Press’ senior editor for Vancouver Island John McKinley compared the municipal tax rates of 28 Island communities, including Tofino and Ucluelet, last year. His research showed that Port McNeil had the lowest average tax bill at $2,154, while Oak Bay had the highest at $6,015. He listed Tofino’s average tax bill at $2,597 and Ucluelet’s at $2,362, which ranked sixth and second lowest on the Island respectively.
READ MORE: Taxing Vancouver Island
In an email to the Westerly News, Tofino’s Director of Financial Services Nyla Attiana said the district is increasing its operations budget by 2 per cent this year to account for rising fuel and hydro costs as well as fees, wages and benefits for employees and is also building a savings reserve for future capital and infrastructure expenditures, which makes up an additional 4.3 per cent increase.
“This increase is part of a steady and measured rise in saving for infrastructure replacement to bring the municipality to a stable long-term position of being able manage our infrastructure without sudden shocks to the taxpayer,” she wrote adding that Tofino has begun an Asset Management program to manage municipal assets and make better investment decisions. “The program relies on accurate information about the state of our roads, pipes, buildings and other assets, and is similar to a homeowner saving up a little bit each year to replace the roof on their house, or ensuring that you’ve saved up enough to cover the costs of fixing your brakes when they wear down.”
Tofino’s taxes are currently projected to continue rising with expected hikes of: 9.53 per cent in 2020, 9.28 per cent in 2021, 23.05 per cent in 2022 and 3.9 per cent in 2023.
Attiana noted that the district is expecting two new debt sources to come online as Tofino’s $55 million wastewater treatment project and the Tofino Housing Corporation’s DL114 affordable housing project get underway. She added that the district is also pursuing a potential $10 million recreation facility.
“The wastewater treatment project is the largest project this municipality has ever undertaken and by 2020 the full effects of its cost will show up in property tax requisitions,” Attiana wrote.
Tofino resident Jarmo Venalainen ran for mayor in October’s election and centred his campaign around decreasing local government spending. Speaking to the Westerly News last week, he suggested Tofino’s annual tax increases have consistently been going up and he’s not seeing evidence of money well spent.
“I don’t see millions and millions of dollars worth of stuff in the village, even though we collected the money from all the residents of Tofino. So the question becomes, ‘What did we do with it?,'” he said. “Tens of millions of dollars got collected. What did we get?…It’s the same theme that I had during the election campaign. I want Tofino to be a place where everybody feels comfortable and knowledgeable about what we’re doing and how we’re behaving.”
He acknowledged downtown revitalization projects have brought new sidewalks and upgraded streetscapes, but noted those improvements have been largely paid for through Tofino’s Resort Municipality Initiative funding, not property taxation.
He also noted that Tofino’s council approved a raise to their annual wages prior to October’s municipal election, increasing the base rate for each councillor from $11,410 to $15,000 and the mayor’s base rate from $19,708 to $30,000.
He suggested Tofino’s district office “has not been clear or transparent,” in letting residents know about the proposed increases and suggested misleading information was presented at a recent open house event, citing a slide that showed Tofino’s expected 2 per cent operations budget increase without showing the overall 7.4 per cent tax increase.
“It seems odd to me that the district would want to present it in a particular way with such a large bias that we end up with nine per cent year over year tax increases without people noticing,” he said. “The district could present the information more factually, more openly, more logically…I’m not trying to be a difficult person, but I do feel that it’s healthy and necessary for us to be able to have an open discourse on these matters.”
Tofino’s next budget meeting is scheduled for April 16.
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