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4.7% tax increase too high: city council

Victoria city council tells staff to base 2012 budget on a maximum 3.5% increase

The message from Victoria's finance director Brenda Warner was crystal clear.

Increasing cost pressures facing the city require action.

"Some services must be reduced or eliminated," she said.

Warner recommended that city council approve a 4.7 per cent property tax increase in 2012, as approved by council last year in the city's five-year financial plan. And even with the 4.7 per cent increase, the city will need to make cuts, she warned.

It was a message council unanimously rejected.

"Our residents can't absorb another 7.1 per cent tax increase," said Coun. Philippe Lucas, referring to this year's residential tax hike, a segment of taxpayers that bore the increase disproportionately.

The increases runs counter to goals of affordable housing, he said, adding property tax increases also affect renters.

Mayor Dean Fortin called for a new target of 3.5 per cent.

"We have to get really aggressive," he said.

Coun. John Luton suggested parkade advertising as a possible revenue source, or a review of solid waste collection as a possible savings.

Most, however, shied away from talk of service cuts.

"People enjoy the service levels they have," said Fortin.

Coun. Pam Madoff warned against taking public suggestions about service cutbacks.

While some people may not value city parks, their comments do not necessarily reflect others, she said.

Service cuts, however, aren't the whole solution.

The city can't continue funding areas of provincial responsibility, said Warner.

The remark was in part  pointed at the city's 2011  purchase of two Traveller's Inns for affordable housing. Cost estimates for the motels' conversion are rising, and Warner listed them as some of the risk factors not included in the 2012 budget.