Esquimalt council approves 2.49-per-cent property tax hike

High-end option will bolster municipal reserves, help cover potential policing transition costs

Esquimalt taxpayers will bear one of the lowest municipal property tax increases in the Capital Region this year.

In a 5-2 vote, council agreed on a 2.49-per-cent increase, believed to be the lowest the township has seen since 1997.

“We heard (Langford has) claimed the lowest tax (increase) in the region, but I think we’ll have to dethrone them,” quipped Laurie Hurst, Esquimalt’s chief administrative officer. Langford is proposing a 2.9-per-cent increase for 2012-13.

After considering eight possible scenarios, ranging from 1.75 to 2.49 per cent, council opted for the package that will restore the municipality’s contingency and capital projects reserve funds to previous levels.

It will also permit the township to bank $59,000, which council informally agreed should be set aside in the event transition costs arise from switching police service providers. The township is currently awaiting a decision from the province on a request to switch from the Victoria Police Department to the RCMP.

If that money isn’t spent this year, it could be rolled into next year’s budget.

Under the approved tax rate, homeowners will pay an average increase of $56 in 2012, while businesses will see a $239 hike.

Coun. David Schinbein, along with councillors Dave Hodgins, Tim Morrison, Bob McKie and Lynda Hundleby, voted in favour of the 2.49-per-cent increase at the April 16 meeting.

“We know we’ve got infrastructure issues coming down the road,” Schinbein said. “And the only way to (deal with) that is to maintain our capital reserves and our other reserve funds.”

Mayor Barb Desjardins favoured a 2.23-per-cent increase that did not include the $59,000 for potential police transition costs. Instead, those could be paid with contingency dollars, she said.

Coun. Meagan Brame also championed the lower rate, though to “honour” a recent decision to cut 20 per cent of the $93,000 doled out in community grants each year.

“We lowered local grants considerably to keep the taxes as low as we could possibly get them,” she said. “Contingency is just that, for the unforeseen.”

Though McKie recognized the blow dealt to the grant fund, he sided with the option that would put extra money in the bank.

“Yes, we need to keep the contingency fund alive because we don’t know what our policing (situation) is right now, so we don’t know if we’re going to get hit with a bill,” he said.

In addition to saving money by scaling back grant dollars, the preferred tax rate was made possible by a $75,000 provincial contribution to Esquimalt’s centennial celebrations. Other savings were found in postponing Lyall Street-Lampson Street traffic studies, worth a combined $70,000, until 2013.

Council is required to sign off on the township’s 2012-13 budget by mid-May.

emccracken@vicnews.com

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