OUR VIEW: The burden of budgets

With Central Saanich looking at a six per cent tax rate increase in 2015, questions about who pays are already coming up.

With Central Saanich looking at a six per cent tax rate increase in 2015, questions about who pays are already coming up.

To be clear, the six per cent figure is a starting point and the municipal council is reviewing their budget to find ways to keep the tax rate down. It’s clear there will be a two per cent-plus increase this year, just to cover long-term debt and wage commitments. From there, council will have to make serious priority decisions.

Few municipal councils want to see their annual tax rate balloon. Annual increases have been in the two to four per cent range in most area municipalities in recent years. Any more than that and politicians risk taxpayer revolt.

Already we’re hearing from business owners, lamenting the higher base rate that they pay. Business and industrial tax rates have been an issue in Sidney, where candidates in last year’s civic election were lobbied to either keep the rate low — or at least give businesses in West Sidney something to show for them.

In North Saanich, the tax rate will go up over the previous two years of zero per cent increases. The question here will be is it enough, considering how North Saanich may have fallen behind in debt repayment or in its reserve contributions to help keep up with infrastructure replacement.

Most municipal taxes come from residential taxpayers — an estimated 70 to 80 per cent. The rest comes from a smaller pool of businesses, industry, public institutions, farms and more. The question is: which category has the biggest impact on civic services — and who should be paying more?

Municipalities must balance those and many other considerations as they strive to balance their budgets.

Local leaders must find ways to save and ensure the tax burden is shared.