Charging an extra $2 per year per household through 2030 for parks acquisition was more than most Capital Regional District board members felt was appropriate during the current difficult economic times.
However, an extra $1 a year for five years, as a way to help reduce the impact of climate change, boost the population’s general well-being during COVID and protect biodiversity – arguments made by supporters – was palatable enough to the majority around the committee of the whole table Wednesday to recommend the increase, as part of the proposed 2021 CRD parks budget.
Provisional approval was given by the committee for the CRD’s overall 2021 financial plan, which must still be approved at the CRD board level. Residents could potentially see the increase on next year’s bills.
Committee member and Saanich Coun. Ned Taylor’s motion to add the extra dollar contribution to the CRD’s parks acquisition fund to the current $20 a year households pay came after his motion to add $2 a year through 2030 was soundly defeated.
Given the CRD’s declaration of a climate emergency two years ago, Taylor said in support of the $2 hike, “we need to take action” toward reducing the region’s climate impact.
He found support from Salt Spring Island Electoral Area Director Gary Holman, who called it a “minimal increase that has a significant impact.”
Victoria Coun. Ben Isitt said boosting support for parkland in this way “is responding to the climate emergency by protecting biological diversity and enhancing the sequestering of carbon.” Not only has visiting regional parks been one of few activities families could do during the height of COVID, he added, “this ranks near the top of the list of what people would like to see money spent on.”
However, the idea of injecting more money into the CRD’s parks acquisition fund at a time when many families are struggling to make ends meet was not roundly endorsed.
Metchosin Mayor John Ranns refused to support the $2 hike based on the current economic uncertainty and voiced concern over the future of the fund if public support for it dwindles. Sooke Mayor Maja Tait noted the increase in food bank usage in her community and said “some residents cannot afford a cup of coffee,” a reference to a previous comparison of what $2 represents.
Langford Coun. Lanny Seaton said rather than spending more on acquiring parkland, the CRD should be looking at ways to make its current parks more user-friendly and increase fire protection within them.
View Royal Mayor David Screech said the parkland acquisition fund has been an “amazing service and an amazing program,” but he cautioned about overburdening taxpayers at a time of crisis. “Never have we not been able to buy a piece of land that staff recommends that we should,” he said.
The $1 increase came to the committee of the whole as a recommendation from the CRD parks committee.