Saanich residents heard their taxes will not go up in 2018 as council earmarked its entire 2018 contingency fund — $700,000 — towards extra costs associated with the tent city in Regina Park near Uptown.
Valla Tinney, director of finance, said costs associated with the camp will not lead to a tax increase in 2018, because tax rates are already set. Depending on circumstances though, it could lead to a tax lift in 2019, she said. Coun. Fred Haynes underscored this point when he said that Saanich has already collected the money for the 2018 contingency fund.
Council’s move does not inevitably mean that Saanich will spend $700,000 towards additional policing and other costs associated with the homeless camp. It instead ear-marks that amount towards any additional costs as they arise.
Whatever money Saanich does not spend on costs associated with Regina Park returns to the contingency fund, which Saanich has traditionally used to cover costs associated with unexpected weather events.
Council also passed a motion that asks staff to prepare more detailed figures by the end of the September as costs connected to the camp become clearer.
“It’s prudent to earmark these funds for this purpose,” said Coun. Dean Murdock in supporting council’s decision.
He said the earmarked amount demonstrates the cost of homelessness that the District has to bear. “But as a society, it is much more significant,” he said. He also used the occasion to call for additional efforts to resolve the issue of homelessness. No one should be put in a position to sleep outside, he said.
Much of the earmarked contingency funding will flow towards additional policing, but additional spending on other items including a sanitation station could end up raising the total cost to $950,000. Depending on events, the final figure may be even higher.
Mayor Richard Atwell opposed the allocation. “To me, it seems like a [public-relations] move, and that is why I oppose,” he said. Staff could have waited to make this move until the end of the August with more information available by then, he said.
“We could have waited, but we are getting uncomfortable about where we could have landed,” said Tinney.
With the knowledge that money will be available to deal with extra associated with Regina Camp, council delayed receiving information receiving additional information until the end of September.
Atwell opposed this move. He questioned why Saanich would fill its “pillow” with $700,000, then “sleep” on it until the end of September. It would be more prudent to get the information sooner rather than later, he said.
Without mentioning Atwell by name, Plant questioned his claim that the extra costs associated with Regina Park could lead to a tax increase. He also pointed to staff figures that show Saanich has other means to deal with additional costs if the camp continues to generate costs in 2019.
Coun. Fred Haynes echoed this point in praising staff’s prudence for building a sizable buffer.
But he also acknowledged the possibility of a tax increase in 2019 because of the camp.
“We will see,” he said.