Sidney councillors are asking for public input on two options designed to help local businesses deal with the economic effects of COVID-19.
Councillors last month asked staff to bring forward options for reducing the general tax increase to zero along with options for additional tax relief. Council had approved the municipality’s financial plan for 2020-2024 in February, before the current economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, with a general property tax increase of 1.79 per cent.
Staff Tuesday presented councillors and the public with a total of six options, with councillors narrowing the list down to two. The option labelled Scenario 3 calls for a five per cent tax reduction for commercial properties, while the option labelled Scenario 4 calls for a 10 per cent tax reduction for commercial properties. According to Andrew Hicik, Sidney’s director of corporate services, the difference between the two scenarios would be about $350 for the average commercial property.
“I would support us putting Option 3 and Option 4 out for public input,” said Coun. Peter Wainwright. “I’m not opposed to council identifying a preferred option, but it seems that there is probably a consensus from the discussion that those are the only two options that are on the table now.”
Sidney plans to advertise these two options through print advertisements, as well as on its website, and social media prior to making a final decision on April 27 during council’s next regularly scheduled meeting.
Two other factors also played a role in council’s decision to defer a final decision in seeking additional input. The first is technology. As Wainwright said during the live-stream of Tuesday’s meeting, not everybody could hear all members of council. (Some members of council were physically present in council chambers, while others participated remotely). The fact that not everybody could hear the discussion makes additional input imperative, said Wainwright. The second concerns the fluid situation. With senior spheres of government preparing additional relief measures, the financial picture may change before council’s next meeting.
Sidney plans to fund the relief through accumulated reserves, and the options presented Tuesday do not address expenditures.
“We are trying to find the right balance between helping out now and not crippling us in the future,” said Hicik. “As we know, council has a very ambitious work plan over the next three years. The more we cut, the less we will be able to accomplish in that work plan.”
Both scenarios now awaiting input call for a zero per cent tax increase for residential properties, meaning municipal taxes would be the same as last year for the average property. But Hicik also stressed that this “zero increase for the average” will not apply to everyone. “Because residential properties increase or decrease in assessed value at different rates, there may not be too many properties that will pay exactly the same amount of municipal taxes as the year before,” he said.
Sidney taxpayers also face higher tax charges from other jurisdictions. Scenario 3 adds $6 to the tax increase of $14 from other jurisdictions, as the reduction for commercial properties has the effect of changing the tax multiples, which impact the amount paid by the average residential property to the Capital Regional District and Vancouver Island Regional Library.
Council also signalled support for delaying the due date for property taxes until Sept. 15.
Hicik said this delay gives Sidney another tool to provide some relief for local businesses. He acknowledged that this deferral will see Sidney burn through surplus and reserves, requiring additional temporary borrowing. This said, Sidney will be encouraging residents to pay by July 2.
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