The City of Victoria is seeking public feedback on the city’s third pandemic budget, which totals $361.8 million and includes a proposed 3.25 per cent property tax increase to maintain current levels of service.
The draft budget contains $264.7 million in operating expenses and $97.1 million in capital projects.
Residents can share their input on the draft budget, as well as nearly 50 items outside the core budget that council will consider funding after discussions in the new year, via a survey at engage.victoria.ca until Nov. 23. They can also email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mayor Lisa Helps said the budget was difficult because the city faces many pandemic-recovery-related demands at a time when revenue from the conference centre and parking are still down.
“There’s a lot that is kind of recovery-oriented in the budget. And that’s the challenge. How do we pick and choose what are going to be the biggest, most beneficial recovery projects that are going to kind of set the table for the future?” she said.
Additional items with the biggest price tags include $1.09 million for 10 new Victoria police hires, $1.07 million for bylaw support, and $1.13 million to address impacts of sheltering in parks and other public areas.
The $63.4 million police budget is responsible for one-quarter of the city’s proposed operating budget. The department has repeatedly said it doesn’t have enough officers to cover shifts, and officers are burning out. About 35 of 249 officers were unable to work in the last week of October, mostly due to physical and psychological injuries, Chief Del Manak told councillors earlier this month.
Similarly, the city’s manager of bylaw services, Shannon Perkins, told councillors during budget discussions that bylaw officers have seen a 300 per cent increase in calls for service between April and August this year and cases are increasingly complex.
“The number of calls has been rising steadily since COVID,” Perkins said in late October.
Other additional items include $32,000 to provide anti-racism training to key city staff, an ongoing $100,000 to hire an Elder in Residence to support the city’s reconciliation work, and an ongoing $118,000 to hire a Vision Zero transportation planner to improve road safety, among many more.
The number of additional item concerns Coun. Geoff Young.
“My feeling was that we’re putting out a list that we can’t possibly fulfil,” he said. “I would suspect that every one of those items will have some support. And indeed, I can understand the need for almost all of them… but most of them are things that would be nice to have, but the list is too big.”
Young said he supports more funding for police and bylaw officers, which would add more than $2 million to the budget. If money is channelled to those two asks, it becomes difficult to fund many of the other items, he said.
On Wednesday, the city will hold a virtual budget town hall at 6:30 p.m. with in-person capacity limited to about 20 due to pandemic restrictions. People can participate by submitting a video or comment form, or calling or tweeting at the city.
An event geared to youth between 15 and 25 who live, work or study in the city will also take place Wednesday at Volunteer Victoria from 6 to 7:30 p.m.
Public input will be summarized and presented to council in December and shared on the city’s website.
Helps said public input is an important part of the budget process and will be weighed along with the city’s long-term plans when councillors finalize the budget next year.
More details on how to provide input are available on the city’s website: engage.victoria.ca.