Victoria eyes cuts to parks, paths and bike plans to lower tax hit

Balancing city's operating budget will require tough choices

Tasked with bringing down a projected property-tax increase to 3.5 per cent, city staff have proposed nearly $1 million in cuts.

Finance director Brenda Warner proposed a list of reductions to the budgets of more than a dozen long-term city improvement plans. They include bus shelter installations, bicycle routes, harbour pathways, green corridors, parks and urban forest management. Warner also proposes to cut the city’s annual transfer to capital reserves in half, to $250,000.

Some on council felt the focus of cuts was all wrong.

Coun. Ben Isitt noted green transportation was being hit disproportionately.

“It just seems like there is lower hanging fruit,” he said, singling out the downtown beautification budget.

Coun. Shellie Gudgeon also disagreed with the direction.

“I think we actually have to invest in our city to make others want to invest,” she said. Instead, she asked for a review of middle-management salaries.

Council voted Tuesday to postpone any decision on the 2012 operating budget until it receives more information about the police budget.

If council approves the proposed cuts, the 2012 budget reductions will carry forward to future years, meaning their impact on trees, parks and other areas will be compounded over the years.

Warner qualified, however, that council could always choose to restore the budget amounts next year.

Coun. Geoff Young questioned the likelihood of funding restoration.

Next year, he said, “we’re going to need to find a whole bunch more cuts.”

He called the five-year financial projections depressing.

Starting in 2013, future property tax hikes are pegged at 4.7 per cent, 4.6 per cent, 4.1 per cent and 4.5 per cent.

rholmen@vicnews.com