Victoria council to discuss property tax, plunging revenues

Victoria councillors will decide Thursday how to cope with plummeting revenues and whether the city should still impose a planned 3.35 per cent property tax increase on residents already hard hit by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Mayor Lisa Helps said Tuesday that her preference would be to cut that increase to zero, if possible, by reducing the amount the city puts into reserves for future capital projects

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“My personal feeling is that reserves are for rainy days and right now it’s pouring,” she said. “I think that, again, this is my personal opinion, that we should reduce the amount that we put into reserves and aim for a zero- per cent property-tax increase.”

The Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria, a watchdog group, is urging similar action to assist residents and businesses on the brink of bankruptcy.

“I think zero per cent would be highly desirable,” said vice-chair John Treleaven. “A tax cut would be even more desirable under these circumstances.”

And he questioned why a staff report going to committee of the whole on Thursday offers councillors no options for cutting services and reallocating the money, despite the fact other municipal governments across the country are scaling back due to the outbreak.

Glacier Media reported Friday that Vancouver has temporarily laid off 1,500 employees in the past three weeks.

Treleaven said local governments should be looking at all options right now given the situation and the revenue shortfalls. “The one they took off the table was reducing services and they may be the only city in Canada that’s been able to do that,” he said. “This is either a national emergency or it’s not.”

The staff report shows the city faces mounting revenue losses due to the pandemic. Parking revenues are down $1.2 million, while the Victoria Conference Centre faces a potential loss of $2 million.

Unlike federal and provincial governments, municipal governments are prohibited from running deficits, so Helps said Victoria is re-opening its budget process to find ways to balance the books and still help struggling residents.

Delaying a number of capital projects and other initiatives would free up more than $14 million, the report shows.

The extra cash could allow the city to offer a bit of relief to taxpayers by allowing them to delay utility payments without penalty for up to 90 days instead of 45, Helps said.

In addition, the property-tax deadline for both residential and commercial properties could be pushed back to Aug. 1 from July 2.

City staff are also recommending that council create a larger contingency budget.

“That will allow us to be in better shape to continue to deliver the services that you depend on like garbage pickup, like clean water, even if this crisis continues beyond what everyone’s expecting at this point,” Helps said.

“So what that means in ractical terms is there are a lot of projects … that will be deferred this year, if council so decides.

“These are hard decisions for us to make, but we know that it’s the right thing to do.”

lkines@timescolonist.com

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