Saanich is applying to join the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce and the Urban Development Institute despite concerns about costs.
The Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce represents some 1,400 businesses and organizations of various kinds and sizes as the second largest chamber in British Columbia. The 750 members of the Urban Development Institute represent all aspects of the development industry and its related professions, from private developers to local governments and agencies.
Mayor Fred Haynes — who first proposed Saanich’s membership in these organizations last year — said the joining of these organizations is part of Saanich’s agenda to change the ratio of revenue received from residential properties and business properties.
According to a staff report, 76.21 per cent of property taxes come from residential properties, with 23.15 per cent coming from businesses. Utilities (0.35 per cent), light industry (0.17 per cent) and recreation (0.12 per cent) make up the rest.
Membership in these organizations would also create network opportunities for council, help staff survey the business community on various initiatives, and allow Saanich to access professional development opportunities, he said.
Council also approved $500 for each council member to access other local professional development events.
Haynes said the purpose of the funding would be only to cover the cost of event tickets, not travel or accommodations, and staff is preparing to bring forward new reporting guidelines.
“It is a great opportunity for us to show that municipalities want to learn,” said Coun. Colin Plant, who recommended Saanich review this financial commitment in two years time.
The public also heard outright criticism.
Katherine Whitworth questioned the costs and value of joining both organizations. “Add the quote for professional development — nine times $500 is $4,500 — and you come up with $9,576.75,” she said. “That is the amount you are voting on this evening.”
Only four of the 13 municipalities in the region are members of the UDI, she said. “With the respect to the Chamber of Commerce, only one of the 13 regional municipalities is member. The question is what is the reason for such low participation amongst municipalities?”
Saanich provides many opportunities for council to network, including the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), whose membership fee is more than $20,000, she added.
These concerns, however, did not sway several councillors, who tried to ease fears council’s decision to join the chamber signals too cozy of a relationship with the business community.
“We already have a relationship with business, and I’m proud of that,” said Plant.
Coun. Susan Brice added that the chamber actually supported higher gas taxes to help fund transit because it benefited the community.
Council’s initiative to join the chamber also received support from several members of the public — and not surprisingly, the chamber itself.
Catherine Holt, the chamber’s chief executive officer, said her organization looks forward to replicating its current relationship with the City of Victoria with the District of Saanich.
“I think our members would like to hear from Saanich regularly, and we would certainly like to be part of conversations with your staff on whatever issues the voice of business could contribute to,” she said.