Most residents in Greater Victoria want public swimming pools that aren’t rusting, fire halls that won’t collapse in an earthquake, and bridges and roads that aren’t crumbling.
Those are normal expectations for a relatively wealthy urban centre, but the repair bill faced by Victoria property owners is beyond daunting.
The City of Victoria’s asset management report released this week outlined the crisis faced by taxpayers: tens of millions of dollars are needed in a few short years to repair and upgrade amenities like the Crystal Pool, the Bay Street Bridge and the main Victoria fire hall.
That doesn’t include niceties like bike lanes or imposed projects like regional sewage treatment, which on its own promises colossal tax hikes.
The City of Victoria’s asset management report focuses on its own municipality, but it provides an illuminating reality check for our entire region. Each Capital Region municipality faces increasing pressure to provide services and amenities, to keep roads, bridges and parks in good standing, while keeping property tax hikes in check.
Easier said than done. Most municipalities have more infrastructure maintenance at any given time than they can afford. Unlike their provincial and federal counterparts, municipalities can’t run deficits just to meet general operation costs, although they can borrow funds for specific capital projects.
There’s also no economic boom on the horizon that municipalities can bank on (again unlike the province and its plans to capitalize on liquid natural gas).
As pointed out by Jordan Bateman of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation: “it’s a bad time to be a Victoria property taxpayer.” Looming tax increases from regional sewage will likely max out residents’ taxation capacity for years to come.
Given the limited leeway for municipalities to raise revenue, the province should give serious consideration to a Union of B.C. Municipalities proposal to share more revenue with cities during economic boom times.
That could be one part of the solution. In the meantime, municipal politicians and citizens across Greater Victoria will face difficult choices on what gets fixed and what gets deferred to the tax bill of future generations.