A Saanich resident worries she and her community would pay twice if the Capital Regional District pitches in to pay for Kings Park.
The CRD will debate whether to fund the preservation of Kings Park at the next Parks and Environment Committee meeting on Nov. 27. The park has a history of passionate locals pushing to preserve it.
Saanich easily agreed to ask the CRD for funds with 18 members of the public and nine councillors speaking in favour during a meeting earlier this month. Katherine Whitworth voiced concerns securing money from the CRD means Saanich residents pay for the park twice via taxes, or that the funding would come with “strings attached”.
Saanich Coun. Colin Plant, also the CRD board chair, said it’s “not possible” for residents to pay twice via taxes for Kings Park. He said the way the CRD Land Acquisition Fund is set up and managed prohibits councils from double-dipping.
The Land Acquisition Fund was created in 2000 to buy land for regional parks and trails. It has acquired just under 5,000 hectares since. Money is collected through municipal property taxes across the CRD, which has been a flat $20 per year per household since 2014.
Collection was originally $10 per household, generating $1.6 million per year from 2000 to 2010. In 2010, the board extended the fund for 10 more years and increased the rate by $2 per year until 2014. This tax rate and the fund are up for review in 2020.
Plant clarified during the Nov. 4 meeting that any money from the CRD would go towards public fundraising, not to replace the $2.75 million (half the total) Saanich has agreed to pay.
Saanich bought the 2.2 hectares from BC Hydro in January for $5.5 million. To finance the purchase, Saanich borrowed $4 million and got the remaining $1.5 million from Saanich’s Park Acquisition Fund.
Saanich said it will be forced to sell off parts of the lot for housing if it can’t raise the remaining $2.75 million to offset the debt. Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes said council would only agree to pay half based on a commitment to balance the needs of the community with financial responsibilities, and challenged the community to raise the remaining $2.75 million.
Saanich resident Rebecca Sterritt is behind most fundraising efforts to save the park and has gathered more than 2,400 signatures in support of preserving the entire space. She estimates the community has raised around $30,000 of the $2.75 million so far. She said that leaves a lot of work for volunteers to do before August 2020 when time runs out.
Sterritt also said Saanich going into debt to purchase the land has made it harder to raise funds through grants, because some grants can’t be used to offset debt. Because the CRD Land Acquisition Fund is set up to deal with acquisition-incurred debt, Sterritt said Kings Park is a good candidate for CRD funding.
Haynes, Plant and Coun. Ned Taylor also agreed the property would be a good candidate for CRD funding. Plant said taxpayers pay into the fund each year “whether or not that money flows back to Saanich.”
Haynes said there is only one CRD park in Saanich – Elk/Beaver Lake Park – despite Saanich taxpayers contributing $39 million into the fund since 2009. “Only a portion of that has come back to Saanich through that fund in the form maintenance of Elk/Beaver Lake,” Haynes said.
Plant said this situation is a first because the CRD has never been asked to be a minority part owner in a regional park before. As for “strings attached” the public and council will have to wait for the CRD to make available options for CRD contribution.
Haynes said this particular park is an asset to the whole region, and is in imminent threat of disappearing. He acknowledged the dynamic tension between need for housing and urban green spaces, and said Saanich can do both.
To register to speak at the CRD Parks and Environment Committee meeting on Nov. 27, visitcrd.bc.ca/about/board-committees/addressing-the-board. The meeting is in the 6th Floor Boardroom at 625 Fisgard St. at 10 a.m.
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