Langford says years of ‘artificially low’ taxes have contributed to budget crunch

Langford says years of 'artificially low' taxes have contributed to budget crunch

As Langford continues to grow rapidly, its ability to respond to emergencies isn’t keeping pace, according to a new report to council.

Only one of the city’s three fire halls is staffed with paid firefighters. The rest are volunteers, and Langford’s fire chief says that has to change.

“Any improvement in having a station staffed and not having people having to come from home and get on the truck is going to have a significant impact on response times,” Chief Chris Aubrey told council at a Committee of the Whole meeting Monday night.

At the six-hour meeting, which ran until 1 a.m., the Committee of the Whole recommended hiring 27 new firefighters over the next three years. That’s nine a year at a cost of nearly a million dollars annually.

And it’s not the only major expense council is facing, with staff recommending the city provide an extra $950,000 per year to the YMCA to keep the recreation centre up and running.

“We have agreed to temporarily double our funds to the additional $950,000 to the Y, so we don’t immediately lose that facility for Langford residents, but this is not a long-term solution. This is just a stopgap,” said Langford Mayor Scott Goodmanson.

He says council has also asked staff to look at the possibility of buying the building from Westhills Land Corp.

“We’re on the hook for $2 million a year anyway because anything that the Y can’t meet we have to cover, so there’s still 18 years. If we’re going to pay $2 million a year for 18 years and at the end of it we have nothing, why wouldn’t we try to buy the building?”

In addition to the extra YMCA funds and the hiring of new firefighters, RCMP is also asking for at least five new officers this year to keep pace with the growing population and keep a cop-to-population ratio of 1:750. Plans for a new RCMP detachment are also moving forward and city staff say they need at least six new full-time positions just to keep up.

The mayor says the big bills are hitting just as years of low taxes set by the previous council are starting to catch up.

“I’m not going to say they made bad decisions or anything because it was the council’s choice to keep taxes at a lower rate, artificially low over the last few years. They were using money from reserves and so forth to cover,” Goodmanson said.

While there is no estimate yet on just how high property taxes could jump in Langford this year, some are offering caution about spiking them too high.

“This year, for all the municipalities, the circumstances are really serious. There’s no question about it. Business has not fully recovered, people are hurting, people are trying to buy food for goodness sake,” said John Treleaven, chair of the Grumpy Taxpayers of Greater Victoria.

April LawrenceApril Lawrence

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