-Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria
The necessary shift away from Medical Service Plan premiums would have been accomplished effortlessly by one line in the provincial income-tax form.
Instead, the province has created an employer health tax and infuriated business, school boards, and created a moment of chaos in many municipalities that’s alarmed property taxpayers.
As if by reflex, some mayors and councils say they face up to a two per cent budget increase and must raise taxes or cut services. In our view, there are other options for municipalities to deal with this without going into shock.
Tighten up management. Through improved management there are various ways of increasing revenue without hiking property taxes.
One example, millions of dollars in parking tickets go uncollected annually. There’s no better time for the Union of B.C. Municipalities to approach the province and get unpaid fines transferred to auto licenses or insurance premiums for collection. This measure would increase revenue and improve parking availability, and help foster more respect for municipal government itself.
A zero-based budgeting process – budgets starting from a zero-base, with a fresh decision on everything being made every year – would undoubtedly reveal savings. Backing up schedules so that budgets aren’t approved five months into the fiscal year would allow proper time for administration, council and the public to scrutinize.
Share services. The Capital Integrated Services and Governance Initiative (2017) report originated from a common interest among citizens and local governments in gathering facts about current service delivery, best practices, and improving services. This report was never tabled or discussed at the CRD – enough said.
Some services are already shared, but additional cost savings could be found. But with an astounding 17 jurisdictions – 13 municipalities, three electoral districts and one Capital Regional District – self interest rules the day. The result is often the inability or unwillingness to share services for the benefit of the taxpayer. The latest examples are the failure of the CRD to come up with a regional transportation plan, and a failure to integrate regional fire dispatch services.
Stick to your knitting. Councils are tasked with a huge responsibility, constantly complain about workload, and yet stray into areas of dubious responsibility that cost taxpayers money.
Do councils have a mandate or ability to weigh in on nuclear disarmament or pipeline politics? Should councils focus on their core mandates such as potholes and sewer pipes, or poetry readings under the bridge and two artists in residence programs? Why do some councils micro-manage and deal with agendas of a couple thousand pages, instead of delegating more authority to administration?
Sell assets. Many municipalities are sitting on a pile of money in the form of land assets. Victoria alone has about $1 billion (with a ‘b’) worth of property assets, some of which could easily moderate any tax hike. One example, selling the lot at Humboldt and Douglas Streets – offers to purchase are under consideration – will fetch a bundle and increase property tax revenue. Some municipalities don’t even have a list of land and building assets and any idea what it’s worth on the open market.
Moderate benefits and wages. Local government has been merrily increasing management and employee wages for 15 years to the point they far outdistance most private-sector employees. On top of that, with the addition of the employer health tax, benefits will now be costed at 25 to 30 per cent.
Wages and benefits make up the bulk of the local tax bill and until moderated and brought under control with zero-based budgeting will relentlessly pressure budgets.
Dedicate increased tax revenue. The past couple of years has seen the greatest economic boom in perhaps 35 years. During this time of prosperity, the newfound property-tax revenue must go to moderating taxes.
It’s a watershed moment, when councils have an opportunity to exercise some fiscal discipline.
Either trim budgets and roll out moderate property-tax increases of zero to five per cent – as they’ve done in recent years – or move into the five to 10 per cent range.
Homeowners, business and thousands of renters have no appetite for excessive property-tax increases or rent hikes. They know that with a culture of frugality in municipal budgets, hefty increases are unnecessary and indefensible.