Core service cuts are on the table as Central Saanich tries to reduce its proposed six per cent tax hike this year.
At the close of their fourth budget meeting on Tuesday evening, Central Saanich council asked District staff to prepare reports showing the effects of a one, two and five per cent reduction in core services.
According to staff, a five per cent reduction in core services would equal approximately $1.6 million savings per year for the District, and would drop taxes by six per cent.
Central Saanich core services include police, fire and emergency services as well as landscaping, public works and so on.
“It would be every single department,” said Councillor Niall Paltiel, who put forward the initial motion. “And it’s not about the whole $1.6 million in savings. It’s more that I want to look into savings in each department before we make an informed budget decision.”
As to exactly what those reductions might look like, Paltiel refrained from speculating.
“The budget presented to us doesn’t give finite details about what core services are. I am fully leaving that up to staff at this point and then they can report back to us.”
It’s partly a matter of “staying out of the kitchen,” said Paltiel, who stressed that council doesn’t want to be dictatorial in making decisions about cuts.
Amended to include a look at one and two per cent reductions as well, the motion came after nearly two hours of scrutiny and discussion of the tangible capital assets – ongoing costs to the municipality such as road restoration, storm drain maintenance, equipment and vehicle replacement and upgrades to community buildings.
Councillor Bob Thompson, chair of the administration and finance committee, has been leading council through the budget items, line by line, with the assistance of staff and independent financial consultant Clive Freundlich to explain costs and the rationale behind them, in the hopes of better understanding where cuts may be made without detrimental effects to the municipality.
The provisional tax increase is still sitting at six per cent, something none of the councillors are particularly happy with.
“My target range would hopefully be something under four per cent, but definitely under five,” said Coun. Chris Graham.
Coun. Zeb King also said he’d “like to see a lower percentage,” and Coun. Alicia Cormier agreed, though she said she’s “not in favour of an arbitrary number.”
“It’s not the six per cent I have a problem with,” said Paltiel. “It’s the additional $99 on the average resident, and the additional $500 on the average business. That adds up, and I don’t want that to be a burden on the taxpayer.”
All council agreed to explore the core service reductions save Mayor Ryan Windsor, who expressed his concern over the challenge to staff time, and the May 15 deadline for a completed budget.
“Circumstances beyond our control have already delayed our budget process,” he said.
Windsor added that council is already under considerable time constraints to get it done.
Other options for savings include reallocating water fees from property taxes to usage fees, and deferring municipal projects.
Council is tentatively expected to meet again at 5:30 p.m. Monday, April 13 for a budget meeting.
For more information, visit centralsaanich.ca.