Saanich residents are facing a 7.19 per cent tax increase this year as the district tries to strike a balance between not over-burdening residents dealing with inflation and being able to follow through on its strategic objectives.
Council unanimously approved its 2023 operations budget Tuesday night, though some councillors conceded it will not be well received in all corners of the district.
Coun. Colin Plant suggested it might not be the kind of budget people want, but it’s the kind of budget the district needs.
“I will acknowledge that some people will find this budget challenging to be able to support in the community, but I believe it is the budget that Saanich needs as we move from being purely an operational municipality to a municipality that is both operational and strategic and responsive to community concerns,” he said.
Plant said both the present and previous council set out to tackle projects like the recently released diversity, equity and inclusion strategy and the older adult strategy, and the district needs funding to enact them.
“That will be challenging for a council to do, but I believe it is the right budget to pursue,” he said.
According to council, the district’s $170-million budget was designed to strike a balance between controlling costs and delivering on the district’s strategic priorities without putting too much additional burden on property taxpayers.
To that end, this year’s budget includes $10.78 million in added spending which translates into a 7.19 per cent tax increase across the board. That means the average property owner will see a tax increase this year of $229.95,
“I think that some residents won’t be happy and I can understand why,” said Coun. Judy Brownoff.
Brownoff pointed out the district is facing the same inflationary pressure as the typical homeowner and is having to pay more to keep the lights and the heat on.
“We also have some very strong policing issues and I think, think we’ve stood strong with support for our police department as well,” she said.
The Saanich police budget for 2023 has increased by $1.8 million to $40.6 million.
“I think that we will be able to defend it,” Brownoff said.
Coun. Teale Phelps Bondaroff characterized the budget as “reasonable.”
“It’s also one that I see benefiting our community in lots of different ways. And as times get tough, the money that we spend to improve our community helps improve people’s well-being, their happiness, their safety and their ability to get around our community,” he said.
Alongside increases to the police budget, Saanich’s 2023 financial plan includes a small increase of $352,749 to its $6 million contribution to the Greater Victoria Public Library. That increase equates to a 0.23 per cent impact on the 2023 property tax increase.
Council also approved the $387,648 management fee to the Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary, and approved its $690,417 contribution to the Capital Region Emergency Service Telecommunications system, a 1.95 per cent increase over 2022.
Saanich also opted to approve $1.7 million in additional funding requests mainly for district personnel to carry out its strategic objectives.
The financial plan includes a number of measures that reduced the budget. The district saved about $1.2 million through initiatives including using money normally set aside for vacant positions on the municipal payroll, changing the way the district finances its information technology upgrade program, deferring for one year an extra $150,000 for park acquisition and changing the way the district funds the active transportation plan.
The budget has been dubbed “status quo” by district staff as it will allow the municipality to maintain services at the existing level.
Mayor Dean Murdock said it strikes a good balance against a backdrop of inflation.
“When you consider all of the competing interests involved in forming a budget and you look at all of the demands for service and programs to be able to put this forward in a very challenging financial year in terms of what we’re facing in an inflationary environment. I think this is a very defensible budget and one that I think will put Saanich on really strong footing moving forward,” he said.
The district’s capital budget for 2023 is $95 million, an increase of $2.6 million from last year.
The capital budget includes $76.7 million to fund maintenance and renewal of existing facilities and infrastructure and another $18.3 million for new facilities, technology and transportation initiatives.
Within that capital budget is about $36 million for renewing water resources, $24 million for transportation including $19 million for active transportation projects and there is $18 million to maintain and improve municipal facilities.
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