BY GARY HOLMAN
A question being raised in the Local Community Commission (LCC) election is whether Salt Spring Island is getting fair value for Capital Regional District (CRD) tax dollars.
This concern is heightened in part because decisions about taxes are currently not very transparent. Establishment of the LCC will bring such decisions out into the open. However, at this time, some additional information and perspective for voters and candidates might be helpful.
Cost of CRD Services
The 2023 CRD requisition for Salt Spring, including local, sub-regional and regional services (but excluding Salt Spring-area-specific sewer and water services), was about $7.6 million. Over the past five-year period, this represents a 20.8 per cent increase, or 3.9 per cent per year, compounded. Statistics Canada’s inflation rate for Victoria over this period was 13.5 per cent. The CRD requisition per “average” residential property on Salt Spring (currently assessed at $1.2 million) amounts to about $97 per month.
In addition to cost inflation, other factors beyond local CRD control include increased BC Transit fees for our just-replaced local buses, higher increases in assessed values than for CRD as a whole, resulting in a higher share of regional service costs, and higher fees for liquid waste hauling and disposition. Note also that some tax increases result from voter-approved initiatives (e.g., historically the library, swimming pool, transit, arts funding), which most recently included establishment of the LCC, and regional voter approval of requisition increases for CRD’s Regional Housing First, climate action and geese management programs.
The Benefits of CRD Taxes
The CRD requisition, plus user fees for some amenities, pays for a wide range of services, including: affordable housing, local/regional parks, recreation/arts facilities and programs, library, local/regional health facilities, grants in aid, building inspection, liquid waste disposal, free residential recycling, transit, pedestrian/cycling infrastructure, emergency planning/communications, fire dispatch, economic development, search and rescue, livestock injury compensation, Fernwood dock, climate action and elections.
In considering value for money over the past five years, voters should also take into account improvements in services and amenities made possible in whole or in part by CRD taxes over this period, including:
• Leasing the middle school, providing 25,000 square feet of affordable rental space for a number of local organizations, including the CRD Emergency Program.
• Acquisition of 75-acre Maxwell Mountain Community Park and Ganges fire hall property.
• Centennial Park drainage, new washroom and boardwalk repairs.
• Construction of miles of sidewalks and pathways in and around Ganges.
• Replacement of our transit fleet, expansion of service to the Beddis area, and free transit for 12 and under.
• Detailed designs for the Harbourwalk; the Harbourside, Rainbow Road and Merchant Mews pathways; parks and rec maintenance centre and bus storage/charging site, all underway.
• Construction of new Lady Minto Hospital Emergency Room.
• Completion of Croftonbrook affordable housing project.
Staff costs often come up in value-for-money discussions. While elected officials make the key funding decisions for projects, CRD staff bring them to fruition. Also, in the last term alone, staff secured tens of millions of dollars in senior government funding for a number of the above projects, as well as supported housing on the CRD Drake Road site, repaving of Ganges hill, replacement of Maliview waste treatment plant, Salt Spring’s first large-scale composting facility, and shared recreation/daycare space at the Rainbow Road pool site. Salt Spring has accomplished much over the years with relatively few staff who are dealing with literally dozens of projects at a time.
Good Governance Addresses Community Needs Cost-Effectively
There are areas where cost savings can and should be pursued. One of the most significant is transportation of our liquid waste off-island. An options study of measures such as dewatering on the Burgoyne site will be underway soon and could reduce these costs substantially. Co-locating local government offices (now paying commercial rents) in the Salt Spring Island Multi Space could move toward a “one-stop-shop” for residents. Partnerships with other agencies and our amazing non-profit groups can also further community objectives more cost-effectively.
The CRD, as with any local government, should always strive to deliver services as efficiently as possible. But we also need to continue improving our local services and amenities, as well bearing in mind that our aging physical infrastructure requires upgrading and eventual replacement.
All of this requires some increase in CRD taxes, the staff necessary to implement projects and secure senior government funding, and a partnership approach to governance. I am committed to work with any successful LCC candidates. But I urge us all to avoid the temptation in these difficult times to succumb to the politics of resentment, and to demand clarification from those seeming to dwell on the cost of everything but the value of nothing.
Gary Holman is CRD Director for the Salt Spring Island Electoral Area.
Thank you, Gary.
Gary thanks for this. It’s always useful for people to understand just what exactly property taxes fund. Would you happen to know how much local property taxes contribute to the local CRD budget?