North Saanich sticks to zero tax increase

Budget passes unanimously after much discussion last night in council chambers

The District of North Saanich stuck to its zero tax increase promise as it passed its budget last night (April 16). But as with any budget discussion, it didn’t come easy.

Some members of council were concerned that staying at zero this year would cost residents in the future.

“In order to reach zero for this year, we will probably have to make increases next year,” said Coun.Celia Stock.

She noted that the district is not passing CRD increases in water and sewer charges on to the residents this year.

“We cut the grants in aid. We cut council conferences [by] $9,000. We’ve cut the contingency fund, we’ve cut paving as a road safety, all kind of things,” she said. “In order to do this, we’ve made big cuts in lots of services. I’m going to be a good council member and try and vote for it, but I want people to understand this little caveat: not all reductions listed above are sustainable, making the cuts to the budget has the effect of leading to larger increases in future years … in order to maintain current service levels.”

Coun. Dunstan Browne, one of the early proponents of the zero tax increase agreed it’s “prudent” that people understand there will be increases in costs in the future.

“This year we got to zero with a lot of sacrifice,” Browne said. “We may not be able to do it again. We still are faced with the same factors that we are a dormitory suburb with very little growth, and the continual growth in our tax burden is not sustainable, and that goes for all municipalities across British Columbia … everybody’s facing the same problems.”

Coun. Elsie McMurphy agreed that cuts will lead to larger increases and proposed to nix the reduction in traffic safety and paving.

“It just seems to me to be foolish to take $25,000 out of a plan to make our roads more safe, and to take $10,000 out of paving … it just seems to me if you don’t pave the potholes this year, they’re even bigger next year,” she said.

“We had a comment from the engineering department to say that this was not going to affect traffic safety, and the paving was not going to affect the ongoing maintenance,” noted Coun. Conny McBride. “These are extras.”

That motion was defeated.

Cutting services to keep lower taxes is a philosophical discussion, said Coun. Ted Daly.

“I understand maybe the exercise this year was a bit of an anomaly, but I’m confident … that next year and as we work together, we can maybe find some more savings. It’s a philosophical thing I guess.”

The mayor too voiced concern, before adding her vote to the unanimously passed budget.

“All of us ran on a proposal to keep taxes as low as possible,” said Mayor Alice Finall. “I am impressed that we’ve been able to achieve a zero per cent increase this year, but I do understand that [it] can mean very significant increases in future years.”

Increases are always approached with caution, she said.

“We do them because we see services or matters that need to be addressed and need to be paid for,” Finall said.