Finding funds amid financial belt-tightening
Kyle Slavin, Saanich News
With uncertainty surrounding how much – if any – money will come from senior levels of government to pay for infrastructure upgrades that come with billion-dollar price tags, the mayoral candidates propose different approaches to foot the portion Saanich will be expected to pay.
Incumbent mayor Frank Leonard says creating a longer-term, multi-year fiscal plan must be created to respect taxpayers’ ability to pay for projects like a mandated sewage treatment facility and a proposed light rail system.
“We’ll have to phase in some expenditures. … We do that within our Saanich budget and the same goes for a billion-dollar expenditure,” he said. “We have to do that to see when expenditures can be accommodated.”
Challenger David Cubberley says the reality is that these projects can’t be funded by property taxes alone.
He suggests proportionate billing, based on how much you use a particular service, is the only fair way to pay for the infrastructure upgrades.
“Property taxes don’t capture anyone’s use of the roadway,” he said.
“We have a sewer utility, which creates separate utility billing based on your use of the system. That’s the vehicle for billing charges for this new infrastructure.”
Earlier this year, all departments – except public safety – at municipal hall were asked to trim one per cent off their annual budgets to help keep tax increases to a minimum. It was the third year in a row that a one-per-cent decrease was asked of the departments.
Council candidate Ingrid Ip says more similar cutbacks will be necessary to find money to pay for these projects.
“The best way is to try and cut costs in other areas, including reducing the salaries for councillors,” she said. “I think that we should have curb-side garbage pick-up – that would save money.”
Incumbents Leif Wergeland, Vicki Sanders, Vic Derman and Judy Brownoff say getting creative with ways to find money will be crucial, stressing that cost increases can’t just fall onto property taxes.
“Corporate funding is something that we haven’t been as open to, or cautious of sharing in, but we have to be creative in ways we can still manage to do business, as well as shoulder the burden of sewage treatment and transportation costs,” Sanders said.
Susan Brice, an incumbent, is calling for 50- to 75-year payment plans on the projects, while Dean Murdock acknowledges priorities need to be set right away.
“We need to make sure that, as we move forward, we’re being thoughtful about maintaining the high-quality services that residents expect from Saanich,” the incumbent Murdock said. “It’s not going to be possible to build everything at one time, so we need to stagger those approaches and ensure we’re investing in the services that our residents want.”
Rob Wickson and Nichola Wade say Saanich needs to make better land-use decisions along major corridors that allow for revenues to increase.
Harald Wolf wants to see Saanich make decisions and plans based on more realistic expectations.
“(The public is) constantly pressuring for more services, then complain when they’re expected to pay for them,” he said. “I’m concerned that most planning and improvements are based on growth projections, and I’m not convinced this growth will happen.”
Paul Gerrard says mandated and wanted improvements can’t be made without raising taxes to some degree.
All candidates, however, say municipalities can’t go it alone.
“Hopefully senior levels of government will come up with their share of the money,” Wergeland said.
Both mayoral candidates say they are skilled lobbyists who have proven they can get money from the provincial and federal governments.
“I’m confident that once we know what you’re asking for, I know how to lobby on behalf of Saanich and the region,” Leonard said, having “personally lobbied” for recreation and art centre upgrades for Saanich.
“Someone has to make the right argument and advocate on taxpayers’ interests, and nobody is doing that right now,” Cubberley said.
“If you don’t ask, you don’t get. What’s gone on in the last decade in the Capital Region is living proof of that. I can’t guarantee you that I’ll be successful in lobbying the government, but no one can.”