Sooke councillors are focused on keeping next year’s property tax increase at between three and five per cent.
The question is how they get there.
“It’s a hard time out there for folks, and we’re not even fully re-opened from the pandemic. So, there’s a lot more work that needs to be done on this year’s budget,” said Mayor Maja Tait, who would be comfortable with a 3.5 per cent tax hike.
Coun. Al Beddows is advocating for a different approach.
“My priority is on infrastructure and improving our transportation networks,” he said, adding a 3.5-per-cent tax boost would maintain the status quo. “We’re likely looking at a seven- to 7.5-per-cent increase.”
Council requested a staff report earlier this year on a budget that would include all department and third-party requests for 2022. That report forecast a tax increase of 17.32 per cent for residential property owners.
Municipal staff are now trimming the budget to a more realistic number for council’s consideration.
Council will receive its first look at the financial document on Nov. 15 and is expected to give the first two readings to the budget bylaw.
A double-digit budget won’t see the light of day, say councillors.
“We gave staff the direction to put everything in the budget — and let us have a look at it – then we’re shocked to shit that its 17.5 per cent,” Beddows said.
“To suggest I would support an 18 per cent tax increase is frankly outrageous. There is no way,” Tait added.
Over the last 10 years, Sooke property owners have paid an average of 2.16 per cent annually in municipal taxes – in three of those years, the rate was zero.
Sooke will likely operate on a budget of more than $30 million in 2022.
Staff and council already expect a tax hike – how much will depend on what council is willing to take off its wish list. There are fixed costs built into the budget, such as wage-related increases, the provincial employer tax and the municipal election, amounting to about a 3.5-per-cent tax increase.
Projects on the wish list range from the Church Road roundabout, the road paving program, Phillips and Throup road connector design, electric-vehicle charging stations, the climate action program, the Whiffin Spit memorial wall and others.
The district receives the majority of its funding from residential property owners, but it also seeks out alternative funding sources, such as grants to manage the budget.
The district received $13.6 million in funding for infrastructure projects such as the multi-use community sports box, Otter Point Road Active Transportation Corridor, and wastewater treatment plant expansion in the last two years.
Council has pushed in the past to have its annual budget and five-year financial plan completed by year’s end, but Tait said this year might be different.
“We (the district) have a lot going on. It’s time to pause for a moment,” she said.
“We know we have a significant issue with infrastructure and traffic management, but we’re not going to finish it in one year. It’s going to take time and resources, and planning to get through these things. We have to recognize the impact all this work has on our community.”
The deadline for finalizing the budget is May 15.