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Near-final Saanich budget includes 7.1% property-tax increase

Expected to be ratified April 18, it’s considered a “status quo” budget that will see spending increase by just over $10 million, due mainly to increased cost of labour.
Saanich Municipal Hall. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

The mayor of Saanich says this year’s $170-million budget controls costs and delivers on the district’s strategic priorities without putting too much additional burden on property taxpayers.

Just over a month before the budget is ratified, the district has only to cross the Ts and dot the Is on its 2023 budget, which will see the average taxpayer face a property tax increase of about 7.1 per cent this year.

Expected to be ratified April 18, it’s considered a “status quo” budget that will see spending increase by just over $10 million, due mainly to the increased cost of labour.

The increase from 6.8 per cent tax suggested in draft budget documents last week allows for one-time spending measures and other resource requests.

Mayor Dean Murdock maintains that given the inflationary environment, this is a budget council can stand behind.

“Our budget falls within the [Consumer Price Index] in the capital region for the year, which is hovering around seven per cent, so we’re obviously not happy to be passing those costs on to taxpayers, but it’s certainly consistent with what we’re experiencing,” he said. “We’re up against considerable costs with inflation especially.”

Murdock noted that all maintenance and building requires concrete, steel and pipes that have increased in cost, to say nothing of the cost to ship them here.

“That unfortunately ends up landing on the budget, and that means we have to make some challenging choices about where we have to increase taxes to offset those costs, and where we have to streamline some things in order to achieve savings.”

The financial plan includes a number of measures to reduce the budget by as much $1.2 million, including using $300,000 normally set aside for vacant positions on the municipal payroll that would be rolled into a surplus at the end of the year; a change in the way the ­district finances its ­information technology upgrade program; ­deferring for a year an extra $150,000 for park acquisition; and changing the way the ­district funds the active transportation plan.

Saanich also opted to approve $1.65 million in additional funding requests mainly for personnel to carry out the district’s strategic objectives.

Several councillors noted they were happy to see money being given to the arts through a poet laureate program, to public art, to menstrual products in public washrooms and to funding reconciliation training.

“I’m willing to support it at 7.14 per cent,” said Coun. Colin Plant.

“Recognizing for some residents that will be challenging, but for others we’ll say good value and lower than some of the other municipalities.”

Coun. Karen Harper said the expected increase in tax is consistent with the cost of living. “I think that this is a reasonable position to land on. It positions us well for the future.”

In an interview, Murdock said coming up with a budget is always a balancing act that tries to ensure core programs and services are maintained.

“The tradeoff is that those things have to be paid for. The other thing is, it’s a lot of the stuff that people probably don’t think about because the service is working — the water is flowing, the traffic lights are running, the street lights are on,” he said.

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