Central Saanich Coun. Zeb King says the municipality is not doing enough to help the community deal with COVID-19, but Mayor Ryan Windsor says the municipality is trying to balance short-term relief with long-term needs in defending the 2020 budget.
King was the lone voice of opposition as councillors Monday adopted the 2020-2024 financial plan, which includes a general property tax increase of 2.85 per cent, a reduction from the previously proposed increase of 3.86 per cent. The adopted budget trims about $177,000 in planned spending and includes a pandemic contingency fund of $400,000.
“I voted opposed to approval because I don’t think the budget is appropriately reflecting the COVID-19 crisis,” he said. “It’s not necessarily reflective of the urgency or the crisis that we are currently in,” he said in a later interview.
He specifically pointed to the municipality’s decision earlier this month to approve the establishment of a fire department deputy chief position and duty chief on call program, with funding phased in over two years. Council would consider the posting for the deputy chief position at a suitable time during the COVID-19 recovery period.
While King said he was not in favour of austerity in describing himself as a supporter of Keynesian economic theory, he said council needs to critically look at its budget. He also said that he would examine Sidney’s proposed plan for a zero per cent general tax increase, while cutting commercial taxes by 10 per cent.
Windsor acknowledged Sidney’s decision, adding that the municipality remains open to public input. This said, Central Saanich has taken measures to help residents, while balancing those measures with longer-term requirements such as maintaining essential services and infrastructure, including an extensive road network.
Surveying the picture elsewhere in Greater Victoria, he said tax cuts today bear dangers for the future. “If we are not collecting dollars today, that can have a knock on consequences,” he said in echoing a point that the public also heard during Sidney’s debate Monday.
Ultimately, developments are moving fast and it will be hard to tell where Central Saanich will find itself.
“It will take months to find out where we are,” said Windsor, a point acknowledged by King. Windsor added later that council may need to debate and consider further actions in the future.
Echoing comments heard Monday from Coun. Niall Paltiel, Windsor said staff has proven quick to adapt to changing circumstances.
Council also adopted a series of other financial measures Monday. They include adopting the tax rate through a separate bylaw, and additional short-term borrowing to help cover any shortfalls that may be necessary as the District plans to extend property tax collection and penalty dates, with a report coming forward May 11. Council also adopted measures that extend early payment discounts for sewer and water utilities to 90 days from 30 days.
Those measures passed unanimously.
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