Watchgroup criticizes Saanich’s budget increase

A watchdog group of concerned citizens criticizes Saanich’s decision to raise property taxes revenues by 3.53 per cent.

Coun. Fred Haynes had reservations about Saanich’s budget but praises council’s decision to hold back its annual surplus for strategic initiatives.

Coun. Fred Haynes had reservations about Saanich’s budget but praises council’s decision to hold back its annual surplus for strategic initiatives.

A watchdog group of concerned citizens criticizes Saanich’s decision to raise property taxes revenues by 3.53 per cent.

“Council just voted a 3.53 per cent property tax increase in the 2017 budget that may turn out to be one of the largest, if not the largest, budget increase of any of the 13 municipalities in the capital region,” said Stan Bartlett, chair of Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria.

The group noted that three municipalities in the region have passed tax increases of less than one per cent: Esquimalt (0.5 per cent); View Royal (0.47) and Sidney (0.66) per cent.

Oak Bay, meanwhile, is considering a property tax increase of 2.8 per cent, while the City of Victoria has set itself a limit of 3 per cent, according to its 2017-2021 Draft Financial Plan.

Council unanimously approved the increase last week, but several councillors, including Coun. Fred Haynes, suggested council should have kept the increase lower.

“While I voted in support of the budget, I raised several approaches where we could have reduced the lift this year,” said Haynes. “I believe we need to look at these again next year.” With these comments, Haynes echoed Coun. Colin Plant, who initially considered voting against the budget.

“I too had reservations,” said Haynes. “That said, I believe we all worked hard with staff. We did accommodate more staffing in the the planning department. I am hopeful these will help with our processing of land use applications, including our local area plans, building permits, and reports on improving the supply and diversity of housing in Saanich.”

Haynes also agreed with Plant that Saanich needs to change its ratio between taxes from business properties and residential properties. It currently overwhelmingly favours residential properties.

Haynes said he was very pleased though that Saanich reserved its annual surplus of about $1.2 million for strategic uses instead of being applied to infrastructure reserve. “This means that Saanich has the funds from this tax year available for funding projects next year,” he said. “By example, this could be updating local area plans, revising the EDPA, studies on the supply of more housing [and] review of the administrative efficiencies of issuing development permits.”

Council last week also approved the remuneration for members of council. Mayor Richard Atwell stands to receive $99,362.91 in remuneration, while each councillor receives $39,492.27. These figures mean remuneration has remained constant from the previous year.

However it is important to note the mayor is not just being paid $100,000 and councillors almost $40,000, said Bartlett. Under federal legislation, one-third of these amounts are tax-exempted, he noted.

“On top of all that, the taxpayers need to add the cost of benefits they receive,” he said. “Some councillors also receive remuneration for sitting on various boards or agencies in the region.”

Documents released by the District show that the remuneration for Saanich’s mayor is 1.75 per cent below the average of eight communities in British Columbia that includes Kelowna and Victoria. As for Saanich’s councillors, their remuneration is 2.85 per cent below the average of their colleagues serving in those communities, whose respective populations either approach or exceed Saanich’s.

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