Saanich council will consider reassessing its 2020 property tax increase of 3.74 per cent to reduce the financial burden on residents as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
On April 20 – in what Mayor Fred Haynes calls a “rare circumstance” – council will reopen budget discussions and review a report from Valla Tinney, the municipality’s director of finance, asking that the 2020 property tax increase be reexamined.
During a meeting on March 31, council approved a status quo budget for 2020 resulting in a tax increase of 3.74 per cent – instead of the 7.2 per cent increase in the initial proposed budget – in an effort to reduce the financial burden on residents during the pandemic, Haynes said. At the time, council was made aware that amendments could still be made to the 2020 financial plan bylaw at any time prior to May 15 – including further reducing the tax increase.
On Monday, council will be asked to either confirm the 3.74 per cent tax increase or direct municipal staff to make changes. In the report, Tinney noted that as the pandemic and the province-wide state of emergency continue, many other municipalities have opted to amend their financial plans to provide residents with further relief.
“Saanich council has been receiving numerous requests from the public to reduce the tax increase for 2020,” Tinney wrote in the report. She added that if council decides to reassess the 2020 budget, Saanich staff could be directed to bring forward “budget reduction options taking into account the unprecedented circumstances” presented by the pandemic.
Haynes has several options for reducing the tax increase in mind. He suggested that the 2019 annual surplus – which council originally allocated for COVID-19 relief operations – be redirected to cover some of the core expenses outlined in the 2020 budget. He added that the $2.8-million transfer to the Facilities Reserve Fund could also be used to reduce the tax increase but pointed out that this could delay improvement and replacement projects of municipal facilities – such as the redevelopment of Saanich Fire Station No. 2 expected to begin in 2021.
During the April 20 meeting, council will also consider a request from Haynes to halt the study of amalgamation with Victoria indefinitely due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. He pointed out that the $250,000 Saanich had set aside for the Citizens’ Assembly could also be reallocated to the 2020 budget should council agree to halt amalgamation talks.
Haynes emphasized that reopening budget discussions has “never been done” in Saanich, but that council understands the need to find ways to “unburden” residents. He added that while municipal governments have very few mechanisms to do so, Saanich is looking for avenues to provide as much financial relief for residents as possible.
Further changes could be made once the province announces a plan for residential property taxes amid the pandemic, he said.