A local watchdog group warns of eroding housing affordability in Saanich.
Laurie and Bruce Kennedy of the Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria said in a letter to Saanich council that “modest, entry-level homeowners” will undue hardships if council were to raise revenue from property taxes by 4.73 per cent as proposed in a staff report describing the 2020 budget guidelines. “Council and staff need a reality check on what this sort of tax increase means to their citizens.” Staff say in a report estimated figure is “preliminary” and subject to future developments.
Last year, council approved a budget that included a 5.2 per cent increase in revenue from property taxes with the proviso that almost third of the additional revenue covered the introduction of the provincial Employer Health Tax (EHT), a cost not faced in 2020.
The Kennedys, however, see that figure and the proposed figure for 2020 as part of a larger pattern. “Continuing down this path of exorbitant tax increases will only put more pressure on the ability of Saanich to have any affordable housing and it is time that [council] accepts this fact,” they write.
The larger argument of the letter is a familiar one, which the public also heard during budget deliberations in 2019, when Coun. Ned Taylor predicted that this year’s increase would have a negative impact on affordability for not only homeowners, but also renters. “It’s affecting affordable housing, it’s affecting the affordability of this municipality,” he said.
But if the concerns about higher taxes and affordability are familiar, the staff report also points that labour costs subject to collective bargaining agreements account 56 per cent of Saanich’s operating budget. Concerns about higher taxes also compete with demands for various services, including police, infrastructure needs, and other capacity challenges, such as information technology, and several councillors have not shied from defending last year’s increase.
Coun. Colin Plant said he favours lower taxes like everybody else, but results from Saanich’s citizens survey leave him with the conclusion that council is getting things right. “I can go to sleep tonight knowing I can live with this [budget], and I think our residents can as well,” he said, adding that he also feels for those individuals who might find the increase challenging.
The Kennedys for their part acknowledge that budget making is not just about keeping taxes low. “We appreciate the difficulties in dealing with the operating budget,” they write. “As we have pointed out in the past, the opportunity exists to control the capital budget by prioritizing new capital projects. This would ensure that we move forward at a pace and cost that the municipality can bear and still allow us to not cut programs or service levels.”
So what would they like to see? “Council needs to insist that we start our budget discussion with a tax increase that simply reflects the cost of living or [two per cent],” they write. “If we start at this number we can dispense with budget reduction scenarios. In this case it would be up to staff to argue why any further increases were needed.”