Tug-of-war over Victoria property tax increase lands on 6%

Tug-of-war over Victoria property tax increase lands on 6%
Nicholas Pescod

After going back and forth on budget items that would increase Victoria property tax between six and seven per cent, council landed on the less costly option Thursday.

Next, the budget will go to a council meeting to be voted on.

Going into the committee of the whole meeting on March 16, the budget as proposed would have resulted in an increase of 6.96 per cent, keeping it in line with the current rate of inflation.

Through the day, Victoria councillors introduced motions to reduce or raise funding for programs resulting in the total property tax increase fluctuating between six and 6.96 per cent.

A motion to reduce the amount allocated to the parking reserve fund and debt reduction reserve fund. Staff recommended not reducing the amounts of funds allocated to either of these funds.

Councillors moved to not contribute $500,000 to the parking reserve fund or $1 million to the debt reduction reserve fund in order to reduce the property tax increase in Victoria.

Coun. Chris Coleman put forward the motion explaining even with these reductions, there is still money being allocated to the funds.

The parking reserve fund has about $20 million in it. We are allocating $3 million to increase that reserve but there’s about $1 million going out to that this reduction would take the lift to $1.5 million in excess of what’s there,” Coleman said.

Staff recommended allocating the full amount to the parking reserve fund because a 2015 assessment of the city parkades noted immediate repairs would be needed in the next three to five years which were estimated to cost $25 to 30 million, plus an additional $6 million is needed to upgrade equipment.

“The debt reduction reserve, which at the moment has about $22 million in it, and there are needs, we are allocating approximately $3 million more to go into it, and so by taking a million dollars out of that we’re increasing the debt reserve by about just short of 10 per cent,” Coleman said.

Staff also recommended not reducing this amount as they said this fund can be used for key priorities like Crystal Pool, a new library or Ship Point.

The reduction in allocations identified by Coleman were approved 6-3, with councillors Matt Dell, Jeremy Caradonna, and Dave Thompson opposed. This brought the property tax increase to six per cent.

After the money going to these funds was reduced, Dell put forward a motion to allocate an additional $1.5 million to the parks, which would bring the property tax increase back to 6.96 per cent.

“We are drastically underfunding and well behind on our parks and it is having a serious impact on families, on kids, on seniors, on our downtown core,” Dell said. “This could be docks in the Gorge waterway, this could be Centennial Square, this could be a splash pad, this could be Peter Pollen park, or sports fields. My kids do not play sports in Victoria because we don’t have the fields needed for sports, we’re only in Saanich and Oak Bay.”

Dell noted he didn’t bring this motion forward earlier because he didn’t want to bring forward initiatives that would bring the tax rate higher than inflation, but this would bring it back in line with inflation at 6.96 per cent.

After some discussion where councillors noted earlier in the day a long discussion led to the property tax increase being reduced to six per cent, Caradonna made an amendment to bring the funds allocated down to $750,000, which would result in a 6.48 per cent increase.

“At 6.48 it puts us below well below most of our neighbours, it’s below what people thought it would be at the start of this day, which was 6.96,” Caradonna said. “So it’s a win for those who want low taxes, but it allows us to move forward on a bunch of projects that otherwise would take longer to achieve. So I think it’s it’s a happy compromise, it’s a middle ground.”

Caradonna’s amendment was defeated 5-4, bringing the property tax increase on the table back to 6.96 per cent – which was also defeated 6-3.

At the end of all the back and forth, the property tax increase that councillors decided on in committee of the whole landed on six per cent.

Paid parking hours increase approved by council

Councillors also approved the motion to increase the hours that paid parking is in effect from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The funds from the additional two hours will be reinvested into the downtown core for beautification and maintenance, cultural opportunities, new public parks and amenities and investigating programs to support downtown safety.

Coun. Stephen Hammond mentioned interest in creating programs like the one in Kelowna, called the Downtown Kelowna On Call to support downtown safety.

“It is where these people are on call for the businesses to call when they’re dealing with some issue,” Hammond said. “It’s not about grabbing a person and throwing them out on the street. They actually work with social service agencies and they work with the police they work with bylaw, and so he says 88 out of 100 calls they are able to deal with.”

READ MORE: Victoria to consider expanding paid parking hours to invest in downtown

Laura BroughamLaura Brougham

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