Billing error will lead to small tax breaks

Double billing of CRD services on property taxes corrected

District of Sooke Mayor Wendal Milne

At the regular council meeting held Monday, March 19, council looked at two recommendations made by the Finance and Administration Committee regarding the recently discovered double-billing of taxpayers for Capital Regional District (CRD) stormwater management and animal care services. The total over three years is $311,909.

The first recommendation was to direct staff “to continue the practice of not using accumulated surplus to fund one-time property tax reductions.”

This motion was setting general policy that surpluses in general not be used to reduce taxes. The report argued in favour of a healthy financial cushion. It would mean surpluses would not go back to the taxpayer but would be used as a safety guard held for unexpected costs, thereby possibly avoiding expensive loans.

“I felt we made a mistake but we should take that money and put it into a capital reserve fund and utilize it for some major project,” said Mayor Wendal Milne. “It’s everybody’s tax money and we need to make wise decisions.”

It was also made clear that the 2014 budget did not include the double billing. It had been caught and corrected at the beginning of this latest budget.

This motion passed, with Councillors Rick Kasper, Herb Haldane, and Kevin Pearson in objection.

The second recommendation was a request for direction on what to do about the double billing for stormwater quality management and animal care services.

Coun. Kasper put forward the motion that the money acquired through double-billing be repaid to taxpayers over a period of three years through property tax reductions. His logic was that the funds had been accumulated over a period of three years, making it appropriate that it be paid back in that same time.

This motion passed, with Mayor Milne and Councillors Maja Tait and Kerrie Reay opposed.

Kasper agreed that while a surplus was a good idea, he was not in favour of using money gained through double-billing.

Pearson stated flat-out that the collection of money was in error, and therefore it belongs to the people, not the district.

Haldane was okay with a surplus but not one achieved through double billing.

Leading the charge on the other side was Mayor Milne, who argued the district is the steward of the taxpayers money and funds were dwindling.

“Each year is becoming more difficult,” said Milne, acknowledging that “our infrastructure is in a disastrous state.”

Coun. Tait agreed that infrastructure needs serious work and echoed Milne’s desire for the money to be used directly for the taxpayer’s benefit. She added to the list of projects that need attention, and included the needs of seniors, youth and animals as well as projects revolving around infrastructure, and beautification. Tait, like Milne, did not support returning the funds to taxpayers.

Councillors Reay and Bev Berger  sought balance, stating it shouldn’t be an all-or-nothing package. Some money should be retained for the benefit of taxpayers through district projects.

Ultimately, it appears that small tax breaks will be doled out over the next three years.

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