Policing, specifically the cost thereof, is one of the drivers in the Central Saanich’s draft budget for 2023. It plans to increase revenue from property tax by 4.95 per cent. (Central Saanich Police/Submitted)

Policing, specifically the cost thereof, is one of the drivers in the Central Saanich’s draft budget for 2023. It plans to increase revenue from property tax by 4.95 per cent. (Central Saanich Police/Submitted)

Central Saanich eyes tax hike as policing, labour drive up costs

Proposed budget of $38.5 million plans to raise revenue from property taxes by 4.95 per cent

Central Saanich homeowners with average assessed homes face an additional $112 in property taxes under the municipality’s draft budget released just before Christmas.

The municipality’s balanced budget of $38.5 million plans to increase revenue from property taxes by 4.95 per cent. The draft states the average home has an assessed value of just over $1.081 million, an increase of 11.5 per cent over 2022. Central Saanich released the draft on Dec. 23 — before BC Assessment released 2023 notices based on July 1 data. Based on that data, the average home in Central Saanich has an assessed value of $1.124 million.

The 2023 draft budget marks the second time in as many years that Central Saanich comes close to raising revenues from property taxes by five per cent. The draft budget for 2022 ($34.4 million) proposed to increase property tax revenues by 4.84 per cent — or an increase of $104 for the average-assessed home with the final figure not changing following the budget process. In 2021, council raised revenue from property taxes by 2.97 per cent — or an increase of $62 for the average assessed home — in a budget balanced at $32.4 million.

Key drivers in this year’s budget as described in the draft include wage and benefits increases.

“The most significant cost driver for the annual budget continues to be labour related costs,” it reads. “Labour represents approximately 54 (per cent) of the District’s operating budget expenses. Agreements with the Central Saanich Police Association, (firefighters), and Employee Association (have) expired as of Dec. 31, creating increased budgeting risk in this (plan).”

The draft also points to an issue that has generated a lot of attention in recent year: the cost of policing. The police service budget has increased by six per cent because of annual wage increases, changes in seniority, overtime, contracted services with regional services and dispatch services.

“Police services account for approximately 26 (per cent) of the District’s operational costs but on average 50 (per cent) of property tax increases over the last five years. This disproportionate driver of increases will continue to constrain other service levels going forward,” it reads.

It is important to point out that Central Saanich has the second-most cost-effective municipal force in B.C. as measured by per-capita cost.

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Central Saanich is also investing more into fire services and plans to cut its greenhouse gas emissions in part through investments in active transportation, all while dealing with an aging infrastructure, a point made early on by chief administrative officer (CAO) Christine Culham in her introduction to the draft budget.

“Like many other municipalities, our infrastructure, major buildings and underground pipes were installed in the 1960s and 1970s and are reaching the end of their life,” she said. “The (municipality) has been successful in securing grant funding from higher levels of government for a number of projects, which greatly reduces the direct impact to our residents and financial reserves.”

The municipality has invited the public to comment on the draft budget and scheduled public presentations, one online, one in person, for Jan. 19. Council is set to discuss the budget Feb. 6, Feb. 21 and March 14.

By way of comparison to the other municipalities on the Saanich Peninsula, Sidney raised revenues from property taxes by 3.76 per cent in 2022 (after starting discussions at 4.98 per cent) while North Saanich raised revenues from property taxes by 3.95 per cent. But any comparison between Central Saanich and its Saanich Peninsula neighbours must also consider the largest context and it shows that Central Saanich has largely different needs and responsibilities.

The municipality has to maintain a large network of roads and sewers criss-crossing a community still dominated by agriculture (nearly 61 per cent of its 46.03 square-kilometres lie within the Agricultural Land Reserve). But it is also home to a major tourism destination (Butchart Gardens) and a corridor of manufacturing and industrial companies with provincial, national and international reach. It is trying to balance these uses with the needs of a relatively small but growing population (17,385 people as of 2021) largely concentrated in two separated centres (Saanichton and Brentwood Bay), each of which is becoming more dense. The municipality also sees itself as a leader in dealing with the effects of climate change and reconciliation with First Nations given its close ties to Tsawout First Nations (1,686 population) and Tsartlip (825 population).

Culham alluded to these tensions in her introduction.

“The (draft) budget balances desired improvements, new expectations of local government, required maintenance, economic climate, inflation and the need to keep taxation reasonable,” she said.

She added that the municipality has limited income sources (taxes, utility fees, investment income and grants among others) and the tax dollars collected are relatively small because Central Saanich’s population is small compared to its land size. But investment returns have improved with the increase in interest rates and staff are working hard to secure grants wherever possible, she said.

“In 2022 the (municipality) received grants totaling $9.4 million (not including the COVID Restart grant), a significant portion of our 2022 budget,” she said. “In 2023, we hope to be successful in a number of other grant applications.”

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