It might be absurd to expect a drop in taxes paid to a local government body, but should it really be such a wild fantasy?
In 2014, Salt Spring residents authorized the Capital Regional District to increase property taxes by $250,000 per year for four years for a specific purpose: to fund Rainbow Road-area pedestrian safety improvements. If taxpayers’ wishes were respected, they should have seen their CRD property taxes reduced by $250,000 this year once the borrowing authority for the (still-to-be-completed) transportation project had expired.
Instead, that $250,000 in freed-up funding was quickly subsumed by a wishlist of three new part-time staff positions — two within the CRD and one at the library — and other bits and bobs. This was part of the preliminary budget supported by CRD director Gary Holman’s predecessor Wayne McIntyre, so it’s not a new phenomenon. It is also not hidden, except when the CRD tells us how little our CRD property taxes jumped between 2018 and 2019. The final figure touted is a 1.8 per cent increase. But $250,000 of last year’s budget was only there because of the 2014 referendum. No authority was ever given to continue spending a further $250,000 year after year ad infinitum. So our true 2019 CRD tax increase is more than five per cent and should be presented to us that way.
The dollars in question for the average-assessed residential property may be relatively small, but the amount is irrelevant. What is stunning is that rather than respect the legal wording, intention and spirit of referendum borrowing — for a specific purpose for a specific length of time — the CRD has assumed our approval in 2014 to contribute $250,000 to pedestrian safety on Rainbow and Lower Ganges roads can be transferred to whatever projects or departments it feels could use some cash.
And as Holman hints in his March 27 budget report in the Driftwood, the same fate could await the $580,000 in annual debt-retirement costs we are presently carrying for the pool, library and liquid waste facility.
It really calls into question the rationale for referenda. Or perhaps it’s time to change the wording of all CRD referenda so that voters know they will be paying that authorized amount forever and ever — on whatever the CRD, not taxpayers, deems is necessary.
If you’d like to see this practice changed in the future, let your CRD reps know how you feel.