Town tax rate is lowered

Town puts off studies, retains other projects, to help reduce tax impact

The mayor will get his crossing lights, the municipal office will soon accept payments via credit card, Sidney will double its contribution to the regional arts council and an economic development incentive fund remains the same.

All this, and a reduction in the overall tax increase to Sidney residents. Town council and staff managed to reduce a proposed general tax increase of 3.19 per cent this year, to 2.52 per cent after a detailed budget meeting Feb.19.

Council saved around $45,000 by moving planned studies of the Beacon Wharf and seawall stability ahead one year. They didn’t completely remove the seawall study from this year’s budget — they cut the amount for it ($25,000) down to $15,000 to keep it as a priority and prompt staff to complete the work with the rest of the money in the 2014 budget.

Making these and other small changes, the town was able to reduce the overall tax increase planned for this year by a few percentage points.

Councillors discussed at one point how getting that number down even further would have been nice — however the town is faced with increased costs and reduced revenues that are, in some cases, beyond their control.

Those include an extra $117,000 in their RCMP contract this year, extra spending to hire more full-time firefighters, and an expected reduction in the money the town brings in for new construction.

The town held the line on water and sewer parcel taxes and user rates, increased its contribution to the Capital Regional District’s Arts Council and maintained $30,500 in its economic development fund this year. That fund will return to $60,000 in 2014 — unless a business improvement area initiative makes that fund unnecessary.

During discussions over specific areas of the budget, Mayor Larry Cross insisted that plans for a pedestrian-controlled crossing light at Ardmore and MacDonald Park roads be moved from the 2015 capital budget to this year when the town completes planned road improvement work there. He cited the need to increase safety for North Saanich Middle School and Parkland Secondary students in the area, as his reason for asking for the change. Staff estimate the cat of the light installation will be around $15,000.

Council debated the request and looked for other ways to save that amount of money elsewhere in the budget. Councillor Steve Price noted that their decision to delay two studies earlier in the meeting more than made up for the mayor’s request.

Council unanimously agreed to include the crossing lights alongside the road work set for this year. To proceed, staff told council that they’re waiting to hear from the District of North Saanich an their deliberations on the matter, as they share maintenance of MacDonald Park Road.

Council ended their third meeting on the 2013 budget and five-year financial plan by approving the documents and setting into motion the creation of this year’s budget and tax rate bylaws, expected to be adopted by mid-April.

A little perspective

What does a 2.52 per cent general tax rate increase mean to Sidney residents?

It can sometimes be difficult to determine what a percent increase means to your household budget. The town sets its tax rate based on the amount of money it needs to generate to balance the books. It balances its rate, in part, on current housing assessments. If home values go down, a municipality might raise its tax rate to bring in the same amount of money as the previous year. If values go up, there’s potential for tax rates to decrease. The final number depends on estimated municipal expenses.

Mayor Larry Cross put it this way: as a resident of Sidney, he pays $1,700 in annual taxes on his home. For his Shaw account for one year, he said he pays $1,800.

“It’s an incredible deal, what we get for our tax dollars,” he said.

Councillor Tim Chad reminded him, however, that not everyone can afford that and urged his fellow councillors to keep that in mind.

Put another way by Director of Corporate Services Andrew Hicik, the town’s proposed tax rate increase of 3.19 per cent this year would have meant the average home in Sidney would have paid $1,489.50 — compared with $1,450 in 2012. That’s based on average house values of $454,000 last year, compared with $427,835 this year.

That 3.19 per cent rate hike could also have been represented by the average homeowner paying $3.32 per month for town services — or 11 cents a day.

At the lower 2.52 per cent tax rate increase, approved at the budget meeting, that drops the monthly tax bill down to around $3 for the average household.

 

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