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Use of COVID-19 restart grant fund stirs opposition to North Saanich budget

Owners of typical home will pay an additional $64 in property taxes
Coun. Jack McClintock questioned the use of COVID-19 restart grant money to fund a new position as councillors wrapped up budget discussions in North Saanich. The municipality plans to increase the amount of revenue from property taxes by 3.95 per cent. (Black Press Media file photo)

North Saanich will increase revenues from municipal property taxes by 3.95 per cent after councillors passed the 2022 financial plan with two votes of opposition over the use of COVID-19 funds.

Couns. Jack McClintock and Celia Stock voted against the staff recommendation to raise revenues during Monday’s special council meeting.

Mayor Geoff Orr joined Couns. Heather Gartshore, Patricia Pearson, Brett Smyth and Murray Weisenberger in support of a decision that will see residential homeowners pay an additional $64 in property taxes based on an average assessment of $1.314 million.

While residential assessments in North Saanich have risen by some 31 per cent for 2022, commercial assessments rose by seven per cent to an average of $2.6 million. Commercial property owners will see their property taxes rise by $565.

“North Saanich residents should be really, really pleased with the amount of taxes they are paying in real dollars,” Weisenberger said in support of the proposed increase.

Other members of council were more critical.

McClintock questioned council’s decision to fund the new position of manager of building and compliance with money from the municipality’s COVID-19 restart grant.

“(COVID) funds are not an endless draw,” he said. “The well will dry up and the taxpayers will be left with (the bill).” The true costs of what he later referred to as “extravagant” staff increases should be reflected on the property taxes, he added. “And that might significantly higher than 3.95 per cent.”

Ultimately, the municipality needs to be more transparent about where money comes from and how it is used, McClintock said.

RELATED: Property assessments up more than 40 per cent in some Vancouver Island communities

While restart grant funds will pay for the manager position for 2022 and partially in 2023, traditional revenues will fund it after that, confirmed financial services director Stephanie Munro, noting that the position is the only extra one in the budget funded with grant money. She emphasized not only does North Saanich’s use of the grant comply with provincial guidelines, other municipalities have used grants to hire new staff.

The position will help the municipality handle increased construction activity, Munro added. Orr and Pearson later added the argument that additional permit fee revenue would also help fund the position.

Without using the restart grant, property taxes would have needed to increase 4.95 per cent, council heard earlier.

Of the $2.71 million in restart money, the 2022 budget will use $995,200 to cover various revenue shortfalls and COVID-19 related expenses, including $120,000 for the new manager this year and $60,000 in 2023.

In general, the tax increase reflects inflationary pressures, Munro said.

Besides the additional $64 in property tax, North Saanich homeowners will pay an average $50 extra for the water infrastructure replacement parcel tax – now totalling $200 – and $36 more in sewer user fees, for a total annual increase of $150.

Councillors also approved continuing the municipality’s practice of shifting tax burden away from commercial properties and toward residential properties, by reducing the business class share of taxes by 0.25 per cent to 24.4 per cent of total tax revenues.

RELATED: 2022 budget for Sidney increases revenue from property taxes by 3.76 per cent

This reduction means the property taxes for the average commercial property will go up by 2.86 per cent, while the average residential property will see a 4.35-per-cent increase. As residential assessments rise faster than commercial assessments, residential property owners will assume a larger burden relative to commercial property owners, Munro added.

North Saanich’s commercial property owners still face a higher burden than their peers in neighbouring Sidney and Central Saanich.

“As an example, in 2021, Central Saanich’s business tax rate was 5.73 (per $1,000 of taxable value), Sidney’s was 5.97 and North Saanich’s was 8.2,” Munro said.

“So we have closed the gap over the last probably six or seven years slightly, but we are still higher than those two neighbouring municipalities. However, we are on the par for the average business rate in the region.”

Staff plan to bring forward the necessary tax legislation in mid-April or early May for council approval.

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