Column: Tax increase poor treatment

I’ll say this right up front: I’m not eager to pay several hundred dollars more per year in taxes to feel better about flushing the toilet.

I’ll say this right up front: I’m not eager to pay several hundred dollars more per year in taxes to feel better about flushing the toilet.

After decades of debate, bad publicity, many studies and one rejected referendum, Greater Victoria is about to spend $782 million on secondary sewage treatment.

For me, reality hit home when the Capital Regional District’s sewage committee released numbers that showed the possible tax hike for the average property. Living in a condo in Victoria, that’s about $300 or the high $200s (the average is $353) for my household. For my friends with a young family in Langford, it’s in the ballpark of $330. For my retired parents in Saanich, it’s an extra $230. If you are on a fixed income like they are, that’s a noticeable hit to one’s personal finances.

Looking back at the history of sewage treatment in Victoria, it’s hard to pry apart the ideology from the science, and what actually makes sense financially and environmentally.

Greater Victoria actually had a sewage referendum in November 1992. Residents had the option of paying nothing, paying an extra $232 in taxes per $100,000 of their property value (for primary treatment) or paying $336 per $100,000 of property value (for secondary treatment, which is what we are buying today).

If voting yourself a massive tax hike isn’t doomed to fail, I don’t know what is. Is it reasonable to expect that a person with a $200,000 home would voluntarily take on nearly $700 in extra taxes?

I’m pretty sure I voted for no tax hike back then, which, from one perspective, helped pass the buck to the current generation and my future self. Thanks for nothing, 1992.

Back then too, people in Washington State got all uppity about Victoria flushing its screened sewage into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Some Americans even boycotted coming to Victoria, which was a credible threat when the U.S. dollar was worth something.

B.C. and Washington State banded together and funded a 1994 study that found effluent concentrations off Victoria mostly flowed over from Vancouver and Seattle, despite both cities having basic sewage treatment. The study found that discharges from Victoria had a “negligible” effect on the waters in the strait. Victoria isn’t at fault and we can blame Vancouver? Money well spent.

In 2005 I was working at the Ladysmith Chronicle when I met Mr. Floatie (a.k.a. James Skwarok), the famously effective mascot that upended science and the existing rationale with poop humour. Soon after, I called a CRD environmental staffer, who, clearly annoyed and for the millionth time, explained how the Juan de Fuca Strait diluted and flushed Victoria’s effluent to little discernible effect on the marine environment.

A few years later and after the province ordered secondary sewage treatment, the CRD’s official stance flipped 180 degrees. That must have taken quite a bit of employee re-education over at the Fisgard Street office. Repeat after me: “Screened sewage is bad, secondary sewage treatment is good …”

A major independent scientific review in 2006 on the impact of dumping screened sewage into the ocean agreed that the Strait of Juan de Fuca is pretty good at flushing effluent away, and that bacteria plumes only rise to the surface during major rain events. Basically, the risk to human health is minimal, unless you are swimming laps offshore in a storm.

The report didn’t let the city off the hook – it said Victoria’s contribution of contaminants is probably minor, but the CRD needed much better information on the toxicity and impact on the marine environment near the outflows. It didn’t recommend sewage treatment outright, but said flushing wastewater into the strait isn’t a long-term solution.

It’s tough to argue against that. But is jumping to expensive secondary treatment necessary? If some form of sewage treatment is inevitable, the tax burden needs to be phased in incrementally. Victoria is expensive enough. Suddenly raise taxes by $300 and something will hit the fan.

— Edward Hill is the editor of the Saanich News.

editor@saanichnews.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Andrew Swanson was arrested Wednesday after he was wanted for an alleged choking assault and for obstructing police. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Victoria police arrest Andrew Swanson on warrants for alleged choking assault, obstruction

A member of the public spotted Swanson and called 911 before police came and made the arrest

(Black Press Media file photo)
Youth sustains minor injuries in stabbing at Saanich Plaza

Suspect under age of 16 taken into custody, no risk to the public, police say

Al Kowalko shows off the province’s first electric school bus, running kids to three elementary and two secondary schools on the West Shore. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
West Shore proud owners of B.C.’s first electric school bus

No emissions, no fuel costs and less maintenance will offset the $750K upfront expense

A B.C. Centre for Disease Control map showing new COVID-19 cases by local health area for the week of April 25-May 1. (BCCDC image)
Vancouver Island’s COVID-19 case counts continue to trend down

Fewer than 200 active cases on the Island, down from highs of 500-plus earlier this spring

Sue Hodgson returns as publisher of the Peninsula News Review starting June 1. (Courtesy Sue Hodgson)
Peninsula News Review welcomes back Sue Hodgson as publisher

Dale Naftel takes helm of Oak Bay News as publisher

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of May 4

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: Do you plan to travel on the Victoria Day long weekend?

It’s the unofficial start to the summer season. A time of barbecues,… Continue reading

Starting Tuesday, May 11, B.C. adults born in 1981 and earlier will be able to register for a vaccine dose. (Haley Ritchie/Black Press Media)
BC adults 40+ eligible to book COVID-19 vaccinations next week

Starting Tuesday, people born in 1981 and earlier will be able to schedule their inoculation against the virus

Parks Canada and Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks dig the washed up Princess M out from sand along the south shore of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Rescue attempt costs man his boat off Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Coast Guard response questioned after volunteer responder’s speedboat capsizes in heavy swells

Road sign on Highway 1 west of Hope warns drivers of COVID-19 essential travel road checks on the highways into the B.C. Interior. (Jessica Peters/Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. residents want travel checks at Alberta border, MLA says

Police road checks in place at highways out of Vancouver area

People line up for COVID-19 vaccination at a drop-in clinic at Cloverdale Recreation Centre on Wednesday, April 27, 2021. Public health officials have focused efforts on the Fraser Health region. (Aaron Hinks/Peace Arch News)
B.C. reports 1st vaccine-induced blood clot; 684 new COVID cases Thursday

Two million vaccine doses reached, hospital cases down

More than 6,000 camping reservations in British Columbia were cancelled as a result of a provincial order limiting travel between health regions. (Unsplash)
1 in 4 camping reservations cancelled in B.C. amid COVID-19 travel restrictions

More than 6,500 BC Parks campsite reservations for between April 19 and May 25 have been revoked

Most Read