North Saanich tax rate stays low

Cost increases, controversial property assessments could still hit hard

North Saanich will once again have one of the lowest overall tax rates in the Greater Victoria region.

At it’s March 18 budget committee meeting, council approved a 1.62 per cent general tax rate hike for 2013.

That’s lower than the district’s 2012 tax rate of 1.7 per cent — which was still the lowest among south Island municipalities.

District staff had begun this year’s budget process considering a 3.2 per cent tax rate increase, but had made reductions in municipal expenditures by February 27 to get that rate down to 1.6 per cent.

At a March 4 budget committee session, it jumped up to 1.7 per cent after council added $5,000 in local arts council funding, plus an additional $100 to its grants-in-aid budget.

By making a few minor cuts in the budget, without a loss in service levels, council was able to approve the 1.62 per cent increase this year.

The tax rate increase applies across the board — to residential, commercial and industrial zones.

“It’s an immensely defensible figure,” Councillor Elsie McMurphy said of the rate increase.

She added North Saanich is not out the woods yet with their budget, as there are impacts being felt from lower-than-expected land value assessments — such as the recent B.C. Property Assessment Appeal Board decision to reduce the value of NAV Canada’s control tower at the Victoria airport down to $20 from $1.4 million. That loss in value mans less tax revenue for the district.

Earlier this year, the same board had decided to do the same for B.C. Ferries’ terminal property at Swartz Bay, also within North Saanich. That decision was reversed in negotiations with the province and B.C. Ferries, but still resulting in a lower assessment value.

North Saanich is appealing the NAV Canada decision and has retained a lawyer to challenge it. The municipalities of Pitt Meadows and Penticton also saw their airport control tower properties devalued in this manner. The B.C. Assessment Authority is also challenging this, as it did in the B.C. Ferries case.

Coun. Celia Stock said it was nearly a miracle staff were able to keep the tax rate increase as low as it is — noting the land value cases and increases in fixed costs to the district.

Councillor Dunstan Browne and Ted Daly asked whether further savings could be had by either diverting money earmarked for water and sewer reserve funds or by reducing budget surplus estimates.

Director of Financial Services Theresa Flynn said water and sewer funds are raised specifically through levies and can only be used for those purposes. As for surplus funds, she said figures of 2013 surplus of around $250,000 to $300,000 are estimates only and something of a buffer in case costs rise.

Flynn said if the district uses surplus funds for the operating budget, and there aren’t any corresponding service or expense cuts, those costs carry on into the following year — with less money to continue to cover them. That, she said, could led to first eliminating any surplus, then draining reserve funds.

Council decided to follow staff advice and stick with the 1.62 per cent rate increase for 2013. Their decision must still be ratified at a regular council meeting.

By the Numbers

Based on 2012 average house prices, annual taxes in the District of North Saanich were $1,310.

A 1.6 per cent tax increase equals:

• $20.96 added to the 2013 tax bill

• $1.75 per month

A 1.7 per cent tax increase equals:

• $22.27 added to the annual tax bill

• $1.86 per month

2012 property tax rates for residential

Highest three: Esquimalt (4.6%), Victoria (3.9%) and Saanich (3.3%)

Lowest three: Highlands (2.1%), Metchosin (1.8%) and North Saanich (1.7%)

Average on the south Island: 3.1%

2012 tax rates on the Peninsula

Central Saanich – 3%

Sidney – 2.9%

North Saanich – 1.7%