As Capital Region District taxpayers reach for their wallet to pay for another tax increase next year, Sooke’s representative on the board warns of an ever-increasing “budget creep.”
“I’ve seen this growth of add-on type services that have come to the region because a lot of municipalities just don’t want to fund it themselves,” said Coun. Rick Kasper.
Recently, the CRD board approved a Safe Route to School program initiated by the metro municipalities. A similar program was created in Sooke in the 1990s, but local taxpayers will now have to help fund the regional program too.
“They fly these things at the regional board table, lobby other municipalities to add on and start imposing services because they have more votes. It’s budget creep,” Kasper said.
CRD directors gave preliminary approval last week to a $217-million operating budget (excluding the regional hospital district and the regional housing corporation). It includes a $1.94-million hike in the amount of property taxes to be collected.
The increase in taxes will see Sooke residents pay about $12.87 next year, a 2.9 per cent increase, while Juan de Fuca ratepayers will see a -4.06 per cent decrease, amounting to a savings of $17.65.
Juan de Fuca electoral director Mike Hicks said while on paper it looks like big savings for local ratepayers, it will depend on where they live. The CRD budget covers six communities within the Juan de Fuca boundary.
“We’ve reduced where we could,” Hicks said.
Tax increases will likely be seen in East Sooke, with the construction of a new fire hall and Otter Point where the fire department needs money for building maintenance.
In Sooke, the majority of the CRD budget goes towards the operation of the SEAPARC Leisure Complex ($2 million). The municipality is also earmarked for a $1.6 million-grant for a new artificial turf field.
“Most of the services we pay for have been in place for many, many years,” Kasper said. “What you see is what you get.”
The CRD’s revenue comes from a variety of sources, including sale of services, user fees, grants and property taxes. Overall proposed budget operating expenditures for 2016 are down about $707,000 from 2015, largely due to decrease in debt servicing costs and a reduction in capital funding, according to a staff report.
Capital projects include increases to the regional parks budget, housing, health infrastructure, improvements in drinking water and sewer systems.
The CRD will seek public feedback on the budget with final approval expected in late March.