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Saanich taxpayers face average $271 increase as council finalizes budget

Council voted unanimously to pass the $190-million budget, which translates into a tax increase of 7.93 per cent
Saanich council was unanimous in approving this year’s budget. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

The average Saanich taxpayer will pay $271 more this year after council voted Tuesday night to approve $12.8 million in additional spending in this year’s operating budget. 

Council voted unanimously to pass the $190-million budget, which translates into a tax increase of 7.93 per cent. 

“It’s always a difficult number to reconcile. It’s larger than you’d always want to see,” Mayor Dean Murdock said the morning after the vote. 

Last month, the tax increase was projected to be 7.91 per cent, but the revised assessment roll from B.C. Assessment showed the value of new construction decreased by 0.02 per cent, which increases the impact on current taxpayers by the same amount. 

Murdock said the budget doesn’t have much in the way of frills and reflects the economic reality Saanich and other municipalities are facing. 

“I’ve previously described this as a due-diligence budget,” he said. “It’s looking after the infrastructure that requires replacement, the facilities that are going to require replacement, it’s adding patrol officers to our police department. 

“It’s making sure that we are prioritizing those things that ensure there’s a high-quality service and infrastructure that people rely on in our community.” 

The problem is that service and infrastructure cost more these days. 

Murdock said the cost of concrete, asphalt and steel continues to be high, while the collective agreement with staff is also costly. 

According to a Saanich staff report, of the 7.93 per cent tax increase, 1.6 per cent is due to the inflationary cost increase of materials and supplies, while 1.3 per cent is attributed to increased labour costs. 

This year’s budget did come with a $6.27 million surplus, a combination of operational savings from 2023 — due to efficiencies and operating without a full complement of staff — and interest earned from investments in a higher-interest-rate environment. 

That allowed the district to provide $5.725 million in one-time funding to a number of projects, including upgrades to recreation facilities, money for building retrofit projects and to implement new programs and $1.2 million for the district’s facility-replacement reserve fund. 

Murdock said the latter will help reduce the need for additional borrowing and ultimately reduce the taxation required to handle debt servicing. 

“That means we’re generating interest rather than paying interest when it comes time to build a facility — that’s going to save taxpayers money in the future,” he said. “My desire is that we continue to use the surplus that way to help drive down future costs on facility replacement.” 

The surplus also allowed the district to provide a one-time grant of $300,000 to support an all-weather turf field at Spectrum Community School. 

The project has been in the works since 2019, when the school was studying the feasibility of establishing an artificial-turf field and an ice rink on the Burnside Road West grounds. 

That grant will be subject to the district making an agreement with the project proponents and securing community access to the facility. 

This year’s budget includes $47.1 million for Saanich police, a 9.7 per cent increase over 2023; $6.7 million for Saanich’s share of the Greater Victoria Public Library budget, an increase of 5.6 per cent; and a $69,602 increase in the management fee for Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary, bringing that contribution to $457,250. 

Saanich’s capital budget this year will jump to $126 million from $95 million in 2023. 

The capital budget includes nearly $50 million for new facilities like a new fire hall and planning for the Saanich operations centre. 

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