Recent consultations by the Municipality of North Cowichan have included the presentation of a draft budget for 2018 indicating a tax increase of 2.64 per cent. At the same time it is made clear that this does not include additional items estimated to cost some $500,000 which would add to the tax increase, raising it even higher.
It has been said before that tax increases in the order of three per cent per year are unsustainable. We have had such increases for some years now and it is still unsustainable. The argument put forward is that this is required in order to maintain current levels of service. We are also told there are demands for still more services.
One might well ask why current levels require an increase at all. Do wage increases of two per cent, exceeding the inflation level of 1.3 per cent, have anything to do with it? Do steadily increasing levels of grants to community organizations who might well be able to raise their own funds, or the use of property tax money to fund business organizations, who have their own sources of revenue, have anything to do with it?
Low hanging fruit like frivolous, even whimsical, grants can and should be chopped. Questionable property tax exemptions should also be axed. There are other projects which could well be deferred without significant inconvenience, particularly when weighed against the very considerable inconvenience of steadily increasing levels of taxation.
In the event increases were limited to a more manageable one per cent, eventually layoffs would have to be contemplated and reduced levels of service accepted. Would this be such a bad thing? It is to make decisions such as these that from time to time we elect councillors and a mayor.
An examination of the proposed budget for 2018 reveals the inclusion of at least one new human resources staffer at a cost of $91,000. The items listed as possible add-ons to the current budget include a new technical services specialist at $82,000, another community planner at $93,000, and additional RCMP clerical support at $72,000. It certainly doesn’t look like the muni has any thought of reducing staff at the present time.
We are told this year’s increase is only 2.64 per cent (maybe). But over time, including the effect of compounding, it adds up. We are told the cost of living is going up. Yes it is, but not that much. It’s called inflation, currently estimated at 1.3 per cent.
We are told North Cowichan compares well to other municipalities of similar size. Good. Excellent. But there is still fat and low hanging fruit. We are told senior levels of government are downloading costs to municipalities. But that does not mean property taxpayers have to shoulder the burden.
Our representatives should be pushing back and making the irrefutable case that with added responsibilities must come added resources, either in the form of contractual grants or access to other forms of revenue like a share of the income tax or a portion of the GST.
What we cannot tolerate is steadily increasing levels of property taxation. Not only is this inequitable, in some cases it is forcing people from their homes. For many retired people or simply those who have inherited valuable real estate, there is no direct relationship between income and property assessments. And where is the justice in forcing people to sell their homes simply because they can no longer afford to continue living in them?
If this seems like a conundrum, it is. It is the inevitable consequence of steadily increasing levels of property taxation. It is also the responsibility of our elected representatives: councillors and a mayor.
Tom Masters is a writer and a resident of Chemainus.