As council meets for the first time in 2018, the 2018 budget and affordable housing appear as over-arching issues. As council meets for the first time in 2018, the 2018 budget and affordable housing appear as over-arching issues.

Saanich faces budgetary balancing act in 2018

Council holds its first session Monday against backdrop of municipal election

As Saanich council prepares to meet for its first time in 2018 Monday, upcoming budget talks and affordable housing appear as the overarching issues in what will be an election year.

Budget talks will unfold against an August 2017 council directive that asks staff to work out two budget cutting scenarios: one would see Saanich cut this year’s budget by one per cent, the second by 1.5 per cent.

While not firm, budget guidelines set the tone for the eventual give-and-take about specific items.

When council issued this directive, Paul Thorkelsson, chief administrative officer, warned at the time that cuts would come with service reductions.

“If council is concerned about making significant reductions to the overall budget in the community, that means reducing services,” he said. Previous efforts to reduce spending have added up to “whittling” around the edges, said Thorkelsson. “If council wants to reduce the budget, council has to consider reducing the services, full-stop, period, end of discussion,” he said.

Council, for the record, also considered a budget cut of 1.5 per cent during last year’s budget deliberations, but never followed through on this promise.

This said, comments from councillors suggest more firmness. Coun. Colin Plant said in August Saanich should review unrealized cuts. “I’m hoping that we would see also some other things,” he said. “What is most important for Saanich residents to realize is that their council is thinking about this very seriously.”

Or phrased differently, council must get serious about financial accountability, if it wants to maintain its credibility, and the byelection victory of Karen Harper — a well-known local advocate for financial accountability before joining council — suggests a favourable political climate for demonstrable financial restraint, if not trimming.

Comments from other members of council also point towards the same direction. Mayor Richard Atwell said in an interview that he considers “minimizing” future tax increases as one of the top priorities of 2018. Coun. Leif Wergeland also expressed his hope that Saanich would “continue to look for opportunities for Saanich to operate more efficiently and effectively.”

To appreciate the sensitivity of the budget issue, consider the following. Staff faced questions from councillors about this year’s property tax increase in August — just months after they had put the final touches on the 2017 budget that included a property tax increase of 3.53 per cent and months before B.C. Assessment released property assessment figures.

But if budget hawks are to prevail, they will have to do so against warnings from staff about service reductions and any potential public backlash as details of the 2018 budget emerge in what is after all an election year. Financial restraint might be acceptable in the abstract, but assumes a different dimension, once it become more concrete.

Reconciling theory with practice has cast a spotlight on the budget deliberation process. Last year, council held a total of at least eight sessions dealing with the financial plan over the months of February, March, and April. Yet councillors have consistently lamented a lack of public participation.

Coun. Vicki Sanders, who chairs, the finance, audit and personnel standing committee, said one her priorities in 2018 is to look at the way the public participates in the budget process. 

If the 2018 budget appears as the most timely issue facing council, affordable housing is perhaps the most structural problem facing Saanich and along with the rest of the Greater Victoria area, and council is set to consider a number of related items.

“There are a number of actions on housing affordability that will come across the [council] table this year,” said Coun. Dean Murdock. “Among them is the review of secondary dwellings as a permitted option to create some additional housing for renters, and additional income for home buyers to go towards the high mortgage costs.”

In some ways, the questions of financial accountability and housing affordability speak to balancing act that awaits council. On one hand, it must satisfy an apparent public appetite for fiscal restraint, while demonstrate progress on a social-issue file that extends far beyond the mandate of this term.

 

Just Posted

Crown asks for more time in Oak Bay murder of young sisters

They will reconvene in three weeks to set a date for Andrew Berry’s murder trial to begin

School’s on today, more snow expected across Greater Victoria

Environment Canada says more snow could fall Friday

WATCH: Do you recognize this sexual assault suspect?

Victoria police release new footage suspect in Bay Centre attack on young girl

James Bay residents face six-week long construction dig for sewage pipe

Niagara Street closed to vehicles as pipe assembly and installation connects Ogden Point to McLoughlin Point

Glenlyon Norfolk School offers community scholarships

Students Grade 9-12 across the region can vie for $10,000 to attend the Saanich school

Light snow leads to heavy traffic in Victoria

Wednesday’s snowfall caused traffic chaos as commuters tried to get home

Three new judges appointed to B.C. Supreme Court

Two spots filled in Vancouver, one in New Westminster

BCHL Today: Merritt’s Buckley nets scholarship and Vees slam Salmon Arm

BCHL Today is a (near) daily look at what’s going on around the league and the junior A world.

B.C. MP invites convicted terrorist to Trudeau reception in India

Jaspal Atwal was convicted of trying to assassinate an Indian cabinet minister

OLYMPIC ROUNDUP: Women’s ice hockey team loses first Olympic game in 20 years

Team Canada added two silvers and a bronze to their total

‘You just don’t know when someone has a challenge’

Wounded Warriors Run BC spreads awareness of mental health, hopes to raise $100,000

Canadian support split on Trans Mountain pipeline debate: Poll

Angus Reid poll surveying Canadians on pipeline stance finds no clear winner

Tired of ‘big city life’? One-stoplight town hosts contest to lure in city slickers

Contest by BC Rural Centre hopes to attract city folks to a small town in the Kootenays

Student protest outside White House a snapshot of American gun debate

Demonstrators take part in a student protest for gun control legislation in front of the White House

Most Read