Central Saanich council had their first budget meeting on Monday, and the introductory property tax increase on the table is six per cent.
That would translate to an additional $99 annually for the average residential household in the District, and an additional $335 for the average business.
The increase is by no means firm, and will go through shifts as council deliberates core services, urgency of infrastructure repair or replacement, grant availability, tax rate ratios and necessary surplus contributions.
Monday’s meeting was geared to familiarize council with the preliminary budget package, put together by independent financial consultant Clive Freundlich while District staff are on leave.
Making up the base of the increase are wage and benefit increases, and debt servicing for the new fire hall finished in 2013.
The wage and benefit increases are non-discretionary, set either by municipal contracts or larger governing bodies outside of the District.
Repayment of the District’s debt for the fire hall is similarly non-discretionary, set by an outside body: the Municipal Finance Authority. Central Saanich is currently scheduled to make a principle payment of $96,000 this year, and $538,603 in 2016 in interest and principle.
These cost pressures alone would necessitate a 2.14 per cent property tax increase this year, and 5.19 per cent in 2016.
An increase of 2.14 per cent this year would not cover any additional funding for road repairs, municipal equipment replacement, sidewalk improvements, sewer or watermain upgrades. The funding for such projects could come from reserves and surplus, but if there is no money flowing back into the reserves, they could be quickly depleted. Grant funding is an option for many of the one-off projects, but isn’t guaranteed.
Mayor and council asked a number of questions at the meeting.
Councillors Niall Paltiel and Alicia Cormier in particular asked staff to research which projects might be more urgent in the near future, and which could be deferred to a future year.
“A lot of us are concerned with the preliminary six per cent budget,” said Coun. Chris Graham to general agreement at the council table.
He asked that in addition to researching urgency, if the District could explore other sources of funding for projects currently slated to use tax dollars or surplus funds.
“We have a lot of hard work to do in terms of going through this and coming up with questions,” said Coun. Bob Thompson.
Council is tentatively scheduled to continue the budget discussion Monday, March 30. The preliminary budget report can be seen in its entirety at http://bit.ly/1C8iHV2.
For more information, visit centralsaanich.ca.