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Victoria council mulls giving annual grant to First Nations, based on tax revenue

Victoria residents will be asked for their opinion on sending cash to the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations

The City of Victoria will ask residents to weigh in on the idea of providing an annual grant to the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations from property-tax revenue.

The money would be drawn from the city’s “new assessed revenue,” which is property tax from new developments and additions to existing properties.

Councillors have decided to ask residents if they support creating a grant that would send 15 per cent of new assessed revenue annually on a cumulative basis to the two nations to demonstrate the city’s commitment to reconciliation.

The city’s new assessed revenue for 2022 is roughly estimated to be about $800,000, which would result in a $120,000 grant to the nations next year, if council decides to move forward with the idea.

The grant would grow each year, with 15 per cent of new assessed revenue for the year added to the amount transferred the previous year. For example, if 2023 also saw $800,000 of new assessed revenue, the 2023 amount would be 15 per cent of that plus $120,000 from the year previous, for a total of $240,000.

It’s intended to grow because new developments, which contribute to new assessed revenue, continue to bring in property tax revenue to the city each year after they’re built, said Mayor Lisa Helps.

Helps said the city has been taking action on reconciliation by building relationships, renaming places and including Indigenous place names on parks.

“And at a certain point, it’s, I think, time to do a bit more than just, at the beginning of every meeting, saying we acknowledge that we are on the homelands of the Lekwungen-speaking people,” she said.

The goal is to share the city’s wealth with First Nations, so “as the city does well, the nations do well,” Helps said.

The idea was developed with the “city family,” a reconciliation body that includes members of the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations. The idea has been presented to Esquimalt Nation council and Chief Councillor Rob Thomas and will be presented to Songhees Nation council and Chief Ron Sam this month.

It’s one of about 50 items Victoria councillors will be putting to the public for feedback starting next week as part of the city’s budget process. Final budget decisions will not be made until the new year.

Coun. Geoff Young, the only councillor to vote against seeking public input on including the idea in the 2022 budget, said he didn’t support it because of how the amount would grow.

“It’s fair to say that it’s likely to become quite a large number fairly soon,” he said.

Young said he worried the increasing amount would put future councils in a tough position trying to address city needs.

Victoria residents might question why city money is being transferred to the nations while other municipalities are not doing the same, Young said.

The city will hold a virtual budget town hall on Nov. 17 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. where residents can share their views on this idea and dozens of other supplemental budget items.

Those other items include $1.09 million for 10 new Victoria police hires, $1.07 million for bylaw support, $276,000 for two new VicPD officers to accompany city bylaw officers and $1.13 million to address impacts of sheltering in parks and other public areas.