A local watchdog group has challenged tax findings of an audit that council received this week. Black Press File.

A local watchdog group has challenged tax findings of an audit that council received this week. Black Press File.

Tax watchdog group challenges findings of Saanich audit

A local tax group has challenged the findings of a new report that finds Saanich’s per-capita tax burden has historically been lower than the tax burden compared to the rest of the region.

“You come up with a more complete and totally different story, if you drill down beneath the numbers,” says Stan Bartlett, Chair of Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria.

He made these comments after his group reviewed the findings of the audit that Saanich council received last week.

“The average total tax burden for local governments in the CRD [Capital Regional District] has increased from approximately $904 in 2013 to approximately $1,003 in 2016, at an average rate of 4.9% per year,” the report reads. “The District’s [per-capita] tax burden has increased from approximately $806 in 2013 to approximately $940 in 2017, at a slightly lower average rate of 2.8% per year.”

While Bartlett acknowledged those numbers, he challenged them on several grounds.

“One of the reasons the property tax burden per capita in Saanich is moderate is that utility rates and any special levies for garbage, sewer and water – which have been escalating significantly in recent years – are not included in property taxes,” he said.

The moderate tax burden is also largely at the expense of local business owners, who pay a multiple of almost four times that of a residential owner. “In 2017, the Saanich business tax was the third highest of the 13 municipalities,” he said.

“Finally, the moderate residential tax burden is also artificially low as a result of the municipality being slow to deal with its substantial infrastructure deficit,” he said in pointing to the pending costly improvements of several critical pieces of infrastructure.

“This spring council approved a 152-page strategic facilities master plan that approved plans to first redevelop the aging parks and public works yard and Fire Hall No. 2 which are considered the most critical,” he said. “The police station was also flagged as in critical need of an upgrade, yet there are no plans to do anything in the short term.”