Sidney staff expect additional cuts to the property tax increase facing residents when budget deliberations enter their final stage.
Andrew Hicik, Sidney’s director of corporate services and chief financial officer, said councillors will receive an updated budget during a special council meeting on Feb. 22. While that revised budget proposes to increase revenue from property taxes by 4.73 per cent — down from the starting figure of 4.98 per cent — Hicik expects this number to go down. “It is fully anticipated that additional reductions will be made during final deliberations,” he said in a statement to Black Press Media following the second round of deliberations.
Hicik said that meeting offered councillors their first opportunity to explore the budget in-depth and learn more about its various requests. Councillors also heard from three members of the public.
Ultimately, council unanimously voted to defer plans for a citizens survey with a price tag of $30,000 to 2023. Coun. Sara Duncan, who chaired council’s committee-of-the-whole meeting, said citizens are “surveyed-out” in making the case for not including the survey in this year’s budget. Councillors will likely learn for free during the upcoming election campaign whether the work of the municipality satisfies citizens, she said.
A motion by Coun. Peter Wainwright to remove a $4,500-request from the Vancouver Island South Film and Media Commission failed without the support of Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith joining Couns. Sara Duncan, Barbara Fallot, Scott Garnett and Terri O’Keeffe. Coun. Chad Rintoul joined Wainwright in support of his motion.
Citing a combination of higher workload and uncertain financing, the commission has been asking municipalities for higher contributions, pointing to the success of shows like Netflix’s Maid (which filmed scenes in Sidney) as evidence of its effectiveness.
Staff highlighted several specific items during discussions, including the proposed creation of an exempt position of manager of human resources (which would be a first for Sidney) with an estimated annual budget impact between $125,000 to $140,000 (or a tax increase of just over one per cent) and an additional $77,500 to fund 24-hour staffing at the Community Safety Building to enhance fire safety. Councillors pushed those items along with plans for an off-leash dog park in Resthaven, now undergoing design revisions, to the Feb. 22 meeting.
Councillors, however, agreed to amend the 2022 budget by $1.3 million to purchase a used ladder truck, a move that promises to save $1 million.
The early part of this second round of budget discussions revealed some philosophical disagreements among councillors about whether they should aim for a specific tax target.
McNeil-Smith said council should work toward cutting the increase to 3.5 per cent, citing inflation. He later added that councillors agree that staff carefully crafted the budget and that all items need to be considered on their merits.
Perhaps the biggest opposition to a specific number came from Fallot. Setting what she called an arbitrary figure creates undue pressure on items in the budget, which are in the budget for a reason, she said. “I would much rather look at the merits of what is in there than to set a figure where we need to go,” she said, drawing agreement from Garnett and Duncan.
O’Keeffe and Rintoul, meanwhile, broadly agreed with McNeil-Smith’s direction, with O’Keeffe even citing three per cent as a possible landing spot. “I would like to see us use maybe a bit more of our surplus … to help us get there,” said O’Keeffe, adding that current tax estimates are fairly conservative. Rintoul added it is not arbitrary to pick out a number.
Wainwright appeared to aim for a middle path by noting his agreement with those who oppose a specific target. But he also made a case for cutting the tax increase by half or one per cent. “I would be comfortable if we got it to 3.99 per cent.”
Within this context, he warned of a tax increase that is too low. “Because we know we have to build it back up … If we are too aggressive cutting, next year and the year after will be much more challenging. If we are modest in our reductions this year, we will have that much more flexibility next year. And we know we have a lot things coming down the pipe.”
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