Editor's note: This story has been changed from the printed version to correct a statement about how much of the community grants were being cut to reduce Esquimalt's property tax increase.
Esquimalt council is finalizing the township’s annual budget and hopes to leave taxpayers with a tax increase no higher than 3.5 per cent.
Heading into Monday’s meeting (March 19) councillors had “tweaked” expenditures to lower the predicted tax increase from 5.18 per cent.
Part of that decrease came from cutting 20 per cent from the $93,000 community grants budget.
“We’re going to have to be a little bit firmer on who we give our local grants to,” Coun. Meagan Brame said. “(Applicants) are really going to have to show their connection to Esquimalt and how what they do is truly a benefit to (our) residents.”
Nick Kovacs, director with the Esquimalt Residents Association, said a tax increase was inevitable for two reasons: population shrinkage, and the fact this small municipality has to pay for its own rec centre and fire department, for example.
"Do I like the increase in property taxes? No, it sucks," he said. "Do I see it as an investment towards the future of Esquimalt? Yes, as long as those investments yield results, which we won't be able to tell for a couple of years, sadly enough."
Kovacs supports the cutting local grant funding as a way to be fiscally prudent and keep property taxes manageable over the long run.
Two priorities council identified are making the bylaw enforcement position full-time, and implementing a five-year road study, which would help council keep track of necessary road repairs.
Having a full-time bylaw enforcement officer is important, Kovacs said, because it would help streamline the development process in the township. And that would help make it more appealing for businesses to move into the neighbourhood, he said.
Increased residential development would reverse the population shrinkage, create a larger tax base, likely increase the amount of businesses in Esquimalt and provide further confidence in developers to build within the city, Kovacs said.
"In order for the city of Esquimalt to (keep) taxes down, we need to increase density. We need to get more business in here, we need development," he said. "Hopefully with this small (tax) increase and with resources being allocated in the right areas… we can encourage development."
Council is also considering putting less money into the municipality's reserve fund this year, a move Brame said would not negatively affect council decisions next year.
"Our account balances do really well and all of our reserve funds are lower than they have been last year, because we're using some (of the money). (But) we can't do it every year," she said. "Services are going to be maintained and things that need to be enhanced, will be."