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CRD to start scrutinizing spending

Uncertain economic times have local politicians scrambling to make sure they're getting the best bang for their regional tax buck.

Uncertain economic times have local politicians scrambling to make sure they're getting the best bang for their regional tax buck.

The Capital Regional District -- a $200-million operation -- has long been regarded by some local politicians as an ever-growing black hole where local property taxes seem to disappear faster than election promises.

Now faced with shrinking revenues and rising costs, the CRD's finance committee is recommending the board consider steps to ensure value for dollars spent, including: reviewing policies for filling positions that come vacant; looking at longer-term versus short-term borrowing for capital projects to take advantage of low interest rates; and a core review of CRD functions. The committee is also recommending staff report back in March with possible budget savings for the upcoming year, along with an accounting of any departmental surpluses to be carried forward that might be used to offset tax increases. "The economic realities are that revenue streams are dropping all around us," said View Royal Mayor Graham Hill.

Hill said he's not in favour in setting an across-the-board spending- decrease target or wholesale chopping of staff. However, he said, a review that ties expenditures with outcomes is necessary.

CRD budgets are complicated beasts, as the cost of CRD operations varies between municipalities and unincorporated areas, depending on what regional functions they participate in. The projected global requisition increase for CRD services that everyone pays into is projected at 1.79 per cent this year, said Diana Lokken, manager of corporate services.

Given that salaries alone will increase by three per cent due to union contracts, it's indicative of a budget that's already been through rigorous scrutiny, said CAO Kelly Daniels.

He said core-service reviews are already under way of both the CRD water and environmental divisions, which account for half of CRD operations.

While the basic increase might be 1.79 per cent, it's much higher on a municipal tax bill, especially after items like Capital Regional Health District costs are factored in, said Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard.

Board chairman Geoff Young said any core review would undoubtedly come back with recommendations of increased service charges, such as imposing parking fees to pay for security around parking lots near regional trails, or increasing fees associated with nature interpretation programs.

Young cautioned against program cuts that would mean layoffs and said CRD capital projects that are being paid through reserves and don't require tax increases should continue.

"While being responsive to the needs of our taxpayers, we also have to recognize that there's a real problem right now with confidence in the economy and in the future," Young said.

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