Municipal budgets a democratic process

Municipal budgets and are perhaps the most democratic of all the forms of taxation

It’s been said that the only difference between death and taxes is that death doesn’t get worse every time politicians meet.

While that glib assessment may evoke some chuckles at the local coffee shop, the truth is discussions about taxes, especially at a municipal level, should be far more nuanced.

No one likes taxes. But municipal budgets and their resultant tax rates are perhaps the most democratic of all the forms of taxation we are forced to endure.

Sooke’s budget has been the subject of a series of public hearings and information sessions where council and the administration heard direct feedback from residents; an opportunity that residents are not afforded when our senior levels of governments develop spending plans.

Make no mistake about it, running a municipality is not an inexpensive enterprise and, on the most part, it’s the residents who directly benefit from a well-crafted financial plan.

The 2019 budget, for example, adds several staff members who will help to reduce the time needed to turn around building permits and other civic services, providing a direct benefit for the community.

Other grants, capital purchases, services, and initiatives all contribute to the health of the community.

The question of the business tax rate was raised this week and, although many Sooke residents may not be aware of the formula for local taxation, it’s true that businesses will shoulder three times the burden of any tax increase when compared to homeowners. If the average resident of Sooke sees the tax on their home go up $87 (as the budget proposes, a business will pay three times that amount for a property of equal value.

But those differential rates are not unique to Sooke, and Sooke’s rates are not out of line with other Greater Victoria municipalities.

And, although it may be time to review that differential tax rate, we need to acknowledge that lowering that rate would most likely shift more of the tax burden to homeowners as the option of cutting the budget to accomplish that goal will almost certainly affect the livability of the community.

It’s a very complex issue calling for some equally tough choices.

But, given that some public budget meetings drew less than a handful of participants, Shakespeare’s line that “the fault is not in our stars (or councillors)… but in ourselves” comes to mind.

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