Sooke eyes more budget cuts due to COVID-19 pandemic

District staff suggests a zero percent property tax increase

If suggested changes to Sooke’s 2020 budget go ahead, property owners could be paying less in property taxes than they did last year.

In January, district council was considering a 4.01 per cent tax increase for 2020.

Now, responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, district staff is suggesting a zero percent property tax increase.

READ MORE: Sooke council OK’s 2020 budget with 4 percent tax increase

Yet, factoring the announcements from the province earlier this month about reducing school taxes for commercial property owners and support for local governments with revenue shortfalls, the tax increase would dip below last year’s number.

Residential property owners were expected to see a property tax increase of 4.01 per cent this year. If unchanged, this would result in an $80 annual increase in municipal taxes for residential properties.

“I do appreciate what staff has done, they’ve gone back and made some pretty heavy cuts. It really sends a wonderful message to the community, if we get the taxes down to zero,” Coun. Al Beddows said.

Mayor Maja Tait added district council is committed to bring the tax number down as low as possible and said it’s no small achievement that municipal staff has already been able to lower it to the new suggested number.

“I’m still concerned, though, on our residents’ ability to pay, but that’s an unknown question,” Tait said.

District staff identified potential savings in this year’s budget in a report to council this week. Those savings amounted to more than $400,000, which would see the “tax increase” dip below zero per cent. To reduce the budget to zero per cent, the district needs to cut $320,000.

RELATED: B.C.’s COVID-19 economic plan next week, John Horgan says

In conducting the reviews, staff considered the pros and cons of each option with a lens to ensuring that the district has the resources available to provide the services the community needs.

Council has already eliminated its $65,000 community grant program for this year and won’t spend $30,000 on the Canada Day celebration after the 2020 event was cancelled. Other cuts include $50,000 from the chief administrative officer’s budget designated for the official community plan, $28,000 from the fire department, and several capital projects amounting to thousands of dollars.

Staff pointed out that while cuts in the capital projects will result in savings in 2020, the projects still need to be completed in a future year.

Further changes to the budget will head to district council on May 11.

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